Minister and civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. earned in today’s dollars nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year in the early 1960’s and gave nearly all of it to the civil rights movement, Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson said Thursday during a speech dissecting the roots of a celebration we now call Black History month.
King supported his wife and four children on his church salary of about $10,000 a year. All of King’s book royalties went to his alma mater, Morehouse College. These facts are included in “April 4, 1968,” a book written by Dyson set for release this spring that will chronicle the civil rights movement.
Dyson connected King’s legacy to the significance of acknowledging the integral part Black history plays in American history during a speech to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s chapter of Blacks In Government.
King’s example contrasts with current attitudes in which there seems to be exhaustion by the larger American community to acknowledge America’s history of institutional slavery and discrimination against Black Americans and a frequent practice by some successful people within the African-American community to “demonized poor blacks” by putting the sole blame on them for their own condition.
“We are buying into a system that penalizes and punishes the poor,” he said.
Instead of seeking to transcend race, Dyson said that King’s life was dedicated to transforming it.
“Martin Luther King Jr. transformed race because he took seriously the history of racial antagonism, looking toward a day when we could move beyond the ‘bigger’ bigotries and the paralyzing prejudices that precluded us from enjoying ourselves as e pluribus unum,” Dyson said.
Dyson told the audience that the responsibility of the successful within the African-American community and the larger community is “to beat the drum of history again to elevate us by the useful appeal to the past.”
Black history is living, significant and important because Black people still continue to shape the nation in a very serious way. “You don’t do anybody a favor when you read Toni Morrison, you are doing yourself a favor,” Dyson said.
Despite the richness, diversity and identity Blacks have brought to the American identity, they have been called on to revoke and rescind any preoccupation they may have with the past injustices, he said.
“The problem with integrating Black history calls attention to some of the flaws and failures of America’s past,” Dyson said. “We are forever condemned as the conscience of the nation on the one hand and the subconscious of the nation on the other.”
But such reflection, Dyson says, is critical to the nation’s growth.
“We don’t want to keep rehashing the past, but if we can never tell the truth about what happened, then we can’t move beyond it.”
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