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Martin Luther King III: Don’t Idolize My Father, Embrace His Ideals of Freedom, Justice and Equality

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We continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the historic voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. On this day in 1965 — the second Tuesday of March — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a second attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery. Two days earlier on Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers beat peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On what became known as Turnaround Tuesday, 2,000 protesters marched over the bridge. On the other side they were greeted by a line of flashing lights and police cars and helmeted troopers carrying shotguns. King told the crowd: “Folks, we’re going to have to stop. And we have been assured that we can kneel for a moment of prayer.” After a short prayer, the marchers turned around. The third — and final — march from Selma to Montgomery would begin less than two weeks later on March 21. This past Sunday, King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, spoke at the historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma where King often spoke.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the historic voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. On this day in 1965, the second Tuesday of March, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a second attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery. Two days earlier, on Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers beat peaceful marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On what became known as Turnaround Tuesday, 2,000 protesters marched over the bridge. On the other side, they were greeted by a line of flashing lights and police cars and helmeted troopers carrying shotguns. Dr. King told the crowd, “Folks, we’re going to have to stop. And we have been assured that we can kneel for a moment of prayer.” After a short prayer, the marchers turned around. The third and final march from Selma to Montgomery would begin less than two weeks later, on March 21st, 1965.

Well, this past Sunday, Dr. King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, spoke at the historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, where Dr. King often spoke.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III: I would have never guessed that just a couple of years ago, that our Supreme Court would dismantle the Voting Rights Act, because today we should be celebrating, but we can’t celebrate yet. And, you know, some would say we idolize Dr. King, and, yes, we should. But, unfortunately, that’s not what he wanted us to do. You know, when you’ve idolized something, you put it on a shelf, lift it up, and when King Day comes out, you pull it out and show it. Or when Black History Month comes out, you show it, or when April 4th or other times, you show it. But, you see, Dad wouldn’t want us to idolize. He would want us to embrace his ideals, of true freedom, justice and equality and righteousness. So I’m concerned because our voting rights have been decimated. We are a better nation than the behavior that we are exhibiting. Since a hundred members of Congress joined with the president yesterday, there ought to be legislation that is proposed tomorrow.

Three quick things we can do. We ought to, first of all, make registration online available, not just in 20 states. That’s one. Number two, we might need to consider changing Election Day from Tuesday. I mean, if you want people not to participate—you want to throw a party, you’re going to throw it on Tuesday? If you want people to participate, why don’t we look at least a couple or three days, and at least one of those days be a weekend day? And then, if those who are so concerned about ID—and the issue is not an ID. We’ve always had to bring some form of ID to vote. It’s just that states have created new forms of ID that young folk and seniors and students and people of color, it makes it challenging to get. So what we could do, as Ambassador Young proposed at the Johnson ceremonies just last year, was just put a picture on our Social Security card—if we have to have a government form of ID. Those are three things that we can do.

The final thing is that there’s something wrong with us purporting to practice and promote democracy all over the globe, and yet suppressing democracy at home. That is inconsistent. That must change. There’s something wrong in a nation where six million black men are not allowed to vote because they were convicted of felonies. They’ve paid their dues to society, but yet their right to vote is not reinstated. Somewhere I heard something about taxation without representation. Maybe they shouldn’t pay their taxes, because they have no ability to promote and vote for someone for them.

Every time I come to these anniversaries, I think about what Dad said in Montgomery in 1965 and at the end of his remarks almost. And he talked about how long will it be, went on to say he didn’t know how long, but he said he knew that it wouldn’t be long because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, and yet that scaffold sways the unknown—behind the dim unknown, standeth God, keeping watch above his own. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because God almighty is still on the throne. Keep keeping on. We’re going to be all right. We’re not there yet.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Martin Luther King III speaking at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, where, on March 7, 1965, 50 years ago, hundreds of marchers left from the church and made their way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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