Reflection on MLK’s “The Other America”

Dr. King first gave his “Other America” speech at Stanford University in 1967 and addressed topics surrounding race, poverty and economic injustices that were, and still are, plaguing American society.

In Dr. King’s speech he begins by painting the picture of the two Americas that exist in American society.

One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits.

King then goes on to discuss the reality of the “other America.”

This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair… They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

It is important for us to recognize our privilege so that we can leverage it for others.  We are not above this feeling being a reality for us. If we experienced this daily ugliness, we too would be tired and filled with despair.

But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality.

Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies.

The racism that we see in our society today is subtle, it is sneaky, it is masked with euphemisms, and it is, as Beverly Tatum says, a smog that we all breathe.  When children breathe this toxic fume, it manifests itself into “thoughts of inferiority” which was shown through the well known “Doll experiment”.

At the time of this speech, two major Civil rights Acts had been passed.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  King points out that he doesn’t want people to become complacent.

Economically the Negro Is worse off today than he was 15 and 20 years ago…But today the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of Whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than Whites.

Today when we look at the numbers we see that 50 years later there is still a gap in the unemployment rate when looking at African Americans and Whites.

King would then explain racism’s ultimate logic…

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. 

Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated Individuals.

The social progress we seek to achieve through our educational system in Memphis will require our dedication.  Our persistence. Our GRIT.

King wraps up his speech by showcasing his faith and his desire of unity amongst all peoples.

But I want to close by saying this afternoon, that I still have faith in the future. And I still believe that these problems can be solved.

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

My words aren’t needed.  King lays it out for us.  Revelations lays it out for us.

Rev. 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The MTR vision statement lays it out for us.

“The vision of MTR is to use our specific work within education, in partnership with other holistic organizations, to help restore communities so that all individuals can become empowered contributors to our city and people of all races and classes can engage with one another in peace.”

As David Montague says… “Let’s keep the main thing, the main thing”

-Dexter Britt, Class of 2015