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From Birmingham to BLM

By Rashid Carter, CCCTU Treasurer

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. oft-quoted sentiment shared from a jail in Birmingham in 1963 was meant to help the broader society better understand the real implication of the injustice he and other Black Americans were experiencing at that time. Though his main aim was the liberation of Black Americans from continued degradation and prosecution, he used bible scripture, historical precedent, and a belief in the redemption of the White American psyche to make a bigger point about the nature of man and woman – that even the most depraved human soul was redeemable and worthy of love. The point of his many appeals to the White majorities in America and throughout the world was that the biggest test to their moment as a world power was before them – would they use this opportunity to propagate a message of superiority at the expense of other populations, or share their influence and power to help elevate all people? He perfectly, and presciently, understood the true implication of the sacrifice Black Americans were continually being forced to make on White America. He asked White liberals to stop mollifying Black America with appeals for patience and diminished anger. He asked White supremacists to examine the darkness within their souls so that the light of Jesus might properly sanitize it.

In the ensuing 57 years since Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Dr. King’s assassination by a White supremacist, Black Americans have continued to be consumed by the U.S. criminal justice system and have increasingly turned on themselves, seizing on the most abject lesson of White predation on Black lives.

In 2013, this milieu produced the Black Lives Matter movement. The aim of this project was to eradicate White supremacy and eliminate acts of violence by the State against Black lives. It was spurred by the murder of 16-year-old Trayvon Martin by an armed White American vigilante. Since its inception, the Black Lives Matter movement has sought to create equality and safe spaces for all Black people, end the persecution of immigrant populations, and end oppression writ large so that America may fulfill its true potential. However, its essence remains the preservation of Black life. It is, at its core, a distillation of Dr. King’s ambition. Yet, it also aims to do the difficult work articulated in so many of Dr. King’s reflections and prophecies – reminding White America of its responsibility to Black America, while also reminding Black America of its responsibility to itself.

Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White Americans. The average Black American household has about one-tenth the wealth of the average White household. In 2020, the President of the U.S. is a proud White supremacist. If we truly admire and believe in the words and deeds of Dr. King and all he represented, we must continue to be imbued by his spirit, which is wholly embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement. Their work is a continuation of his sacrifice.

This article appears in the special Black Lives Matter edition of the Local 1600 newsletter, The Union Voice.

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