[For this year’s MLK Day series, starting as always with my annual post on remembering the full King, I wanted to return to that source, focusing on a few under-remembered moments from King’s tragically brief but strikingly full activist life. Leading up to a special weekend post on a few of King’s 21st century heirs!]
To continue last week’s book release series: I wrote about one of King’s earliest prominent speeches, 1957’s “Give us the Ballot,” as part of my 1960s chapter in Of Thee I Sing, so for today’s post will share that section of the book:
“One of the [Civil Rights] movement’s central goals was to give African Americans the same rights that had been defined as core American principles since the Revolution; that goal was potently illustrated by the push for voting rights, which had been legally promised to African American men since the 15th Amendment in 1870 and women since the 19th in 1920 but had in practice consistently been denied. In his prominent early speech ‘Give Us the Ballot,’ delivered at the May 17th, 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom demonstration in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. both expressed that goal clearly and linked it to an active patriotic vision of African American and American identity. He opens by noting that ‘The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.’ In the speech’s most famous section, he lists a series of politically and socially progressive results (for all Americans) that will follow if you ‘Give us the ballot.’ And he concludes with an overarching, idealized vision of how such fights for African American rights constitute as well active patriotism on behalf of the nation’s future: ‘when the history books are written in the future, the historians will have to look back and say, ‘There lived a great people . . . a people who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization; a people which stood up with dignity and honor and saved Western civilization in her darkest hour; a people that gave new integrity and a new dimension of love to our civilization.’”
Next MLK history tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other MLK histories or contexts you’d highlight?