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Ossie Davis Remembers Martin Luther King in 1968: King Was “One of the Bravest Black Men We Have Lost in This Struggle”

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We play a recording of Ossie Davis speaking at a memorial gathering for Martin Luther King in New York City on April 5th, 1968. Davis says, “As I stand before you, I don’t ask whether you are a white Martin, or whether you are a black martin, I ask first if you are a man and second, if you believe that men should stand or fall for freedom and third, if you believe that the time for that freedom is now.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Ossie Davis, speaking at a memorial gathering in Central Park, New York City, April 5th, 1968. Courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives.

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StoryApr 04, 2008Democracy Now! Special: Martin Luther King’s Life and Legacy 40 Years After His Assassination
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: [We] now move forward three years to 1968, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ossie Davis spoke a day after that assassination at a memorial gathering here in New York at Central Park. Again, from the Pacifica Radio Archives, Ossie Davis.

OSSIE DAVIS: Brothers and sisters, we gather at this spot in Central Park to make a statement of expression of how we feel about the world as it stands before us. A great man has fallen, and the world waits for our response. The fact that he was an apostle of love and non-violence might have led many in the world to mistake his personal courage as a man, but nobody who listened to the last words he said on the night before he was slain can doubt that Martin Luther King was one of the bravest black men we have lost in this struggle. And Martin King left us not only the example of his life and of his thoughts and his philosophies and his teachings, but this is more important to the young people in our country, to the black people in our country, he left us the example of his death. He knew it was coming, and he didn’t run, he didn’t change, he didn’t back down. He went forward and he met it like a black man always meets it!

Now, why was Martin Luther King in Memphis? Was he there just preaching sermons? No. Was he there holding a seminar on non-violence? No. He was not there delivering a lecture or receiving a Nobel Prize from the high powers of the world. He went to Memphis to help his black deprived brothers win their bargaining rights from the City of Memphis, and we have got to go and see that they give it to ’em!

They talk, they talked to us, they talked to us about what kind of people we are. They laugh at us because we have to feed our families from what we can get on welfare. They say to us, why do you ask the government to do so much for you, and the government hasn’t done anything for anybody else? They say that we love welfare, that we are not men, that we don’t care for our wives and our children, that we don’t want to work, and Memphis men are trying to work, trying to earn enough to send their kids to schools to put breads on their tables, and you killed the man! How much, how much, America, do you expect us to bear? There is no time left.

When we had another brother who stood up for his people, he was gunned down in February of 1965, Malcolm X. Just, just before Malcolm died he went down to Selma, where Martin Luther King was having some trouble, and Malcolm went to offer him his hand in friendship and Malcolm said, we may differ, Martin King, on tactics, we may differ on philosophy, we may differ on many things, but you are black, and I am black, and let’s not forget that, and let’s stand together on that basis! And isn’t it prophetic, isn’t it prophetic that just a few weeks ago Martin Luther King, Nobel Prize winner, big man in the world, popular with black folks, popular with white folks, Martin Luther King went to Newark and visited LeRoi Jones, and said the same brotherhood statement that Malcolm had made to him. The fact that we are black is enough to establish our unity on the basis of our fight in this country!

I, my wife and I are looking forward to being in Memphis on Monday to carry forward the march that Dr. King was going to. I don’t know — the southern — Dr. King’s body is back in Atlanta. The leaders are having a meeting deciding what is to be done, so I don’t know what the circumstances are. I do know there will be a march, and I do know that I want to be in that number, and I would like to feel that those of you who stand here, black and white, shamed, insulted, spat in the face of your manhood and your dignity and your belief in democracy by that stupid fool and his bullet in Memphis, that you will be there, too. On to Memphis! Those brothers, those black brothers in Memphis who sent for Martin King, they still need our help. They put up a brave fight, and they lost one of us. But for every Martin they cut down, there must be 100 Martins to step into his shoes! And as I stand before you, as I stand before you, I don’t ask whether you are a white Martin, or whether you are a black Martin, I ask first if you are a man, and second, if you believe that men should stand or fall for freedom. And third, if you believe that the time for that freedom is now that you will take those steps now! Now! Now! Thank you. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Ossie Davis, speaking the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was April 5, 1968, in Central Park, New York. This recording from the Pacifica Radio Archive.

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