In the last of the "Finishing the Dream" Town Halls, Atlanta's historically black college Spelman University is the setting for a spirited conversation between the older generation of civil rights leaders and a younger generation who are continuing the work of the movement in a myriad of ways.
Finishing the Dream Atlanta Town Hall (Full Episode)
BRENDA WOOD, host:
Good evening everyone, I’m Brenda Wood with 11 Alive in Atlanta, welcome to our Town Hall Meeting, Finishing the Dream, Learning from the Civil Rights Era.
It’s sponsored by NBC Learn and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We’re in the Cosby Auditorium here in the beautiful campus of Spelman College, America’s oldest historically black college for women. For the next hour or so, we’re going to be taking a look at the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and the modern Civil Rights Movement. We’ll explore several subjects from the start of the Civil Rights struggle to the election of the first African-American president in the United States.
And to walk us through this journey, we have a distinguished panel: Morehouse College Senior International Studies and Physics Major, Jacques Pape; the daughter of the Late Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and current SCLC president, Elder Bernice King; Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed; Civil Rights Leader and cofounder of the SCLC with Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Joseph Lowery; Spelman College President, Dr. Beverly Tatum; Ambassador, Andrew Young; the first African-American Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Judge Robert Benham; and to round out our panel, the Executive Director of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Doug Shipman.
Let’s give them a round of applause.
Our audience here is made up of students from all over metro Atlanta, middle school students, high school students, and college students; all of them are anxious to be a part of this and we’re going to hear from them as they ask the panelists their own questions on this subject tonight.
So, we begin by watching an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from NBC’s news archives.
RICH SAMUELS [in clip]: Emmett Till is buried in Chicago, his hometown, while Emmett was visiting a great-uncle in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955. He whistled at a white woman. That whistle cost him his life.
MAMIE MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL’S MOTHER [IN CLIP]: I hope that his death will certainly start a movement in the United States.
CHET HUNTLEY, NBC NEWS [IN CLIP]: Most Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama, are boycotting the city buses because of woman who refused to take a segregated seat, was fined and police probed.
REPORTER [IN CLIP]: Do you believe the majority of the Negro people of Montgomery will now go back to riding the buses?
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. [IN CLIP]: Yes, I do. We must go back with a deep sense of love and dedication to the principle of nonviolence.
FRANK MCGEE [IN CLIP]: A multitude of Negroes and whites moved on Washington today in what is easily the most massive demonstration ever seen in the capital or in the nation.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. [IN CLIP]: I have a dream today.
FRED HAMPTON [IN CLIP]: If you dare to struggle, you dare to win, if you dare not to struggle, then you don’t deserve to win…you don’t deserve to win. We’re saying that you’ve got to get out here and got to involve yourself in the struggle.
MALCOLM X [IN CLIP]: Be a man. Earn what you need for your own family. Then your family respects you. They’re proud to say “that’s my father.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. [IN CLIP]: I have no moral conflict. I want to live in my own as anybody in this building, and sometimes I begin to doubt that I’m going to make it through. ‘Cause I don’t march because I like it. I march because I must, and because I’m a man, and because I’m a child of God.
BRENDA WOOD: That is moving. We’re going to begin with Elder King. I think it’s appropriate, seeing your father in those video-- in that video clip just there and knowing the work that he accomplished. What’s left undone?
ELDER BERNICE KING, panelist:
Well, I think first and foremost when you think about what’s undone, Dr. King, my dad, left us a blueprint in his book that he wrote, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” that is available for people to read. And one of the things that he challenged us towards is a Radical Revolution of Values, as we move forward in this global society. And he said, “We must rapidly shift from a thing-oriented society to a people or person-centered society. We’re going to have to really look at our value system and our value structure and ensure that we are putting people first and foremost instead of profit.
BRENDA WOOD: So, what I’m hearing you say-- what I’m hearing you say then that there is much work to be done. The answer to the question is, “No, the Civil Rights Movement has not been won yet.” Would you agree?
ELDER BERNICE KING: Oh, I-- I don’t it’s won. My mother said it best. In another way, she said, “A freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
BRENDA WOOD: Reverend Lowery, what’s the problem-- what’s the problem, what’s the disconnect between the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties that you were so much a part of along with Dr. King and now, what’s the disconnect, what’s wrong?
REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, panelist:
It’s that-- I brought that answer but I left it on the dresser. [Laughter] I think there is a disconnect, but there’s also a connect. And I think that more and more people are realizing, particularly young people as they come into adulthood is that we’ve come a long way, but we still have many, many miles to go before we sleep, as Frost put it, but change has come, everything has changed. And on the other hand, nothing has changed.
BRENDA WOOD: Dr Tatum, would you agree that nothing has changed?
DR. BEVERLY TATUM, panelist:
Oh, I see certainly a lot of change in terms of, we think back to 1954 which is the year I was born, the year of Brown versus Board of Education, the segregation signs are gone, access to education has expanded certainly. But at the same time, we do know that there’re still access to high-quality education for all students is not yet available. Many children of color are trapped in schools that can be described as “dropout factories.” There are limitations to the access to opportunity that I think Dr. King and all of that generation struggled for that we still have not quite achieved. But there’s no question as I look at my parents are in the audience, and as I look at the experience of my parents and the access to education that they had versus what I’ve had or my children who are now in their twenties have had, it’s clear that change has taken place.
BRENDA WOOD: I’ve to get to the take from Ambassador Young. You were there right in the thick of it in the center of the movement. Has-- Has anything changed?
REV. ANDREW YOUNG, panelist:
Well, Dr. Lowery, I think was the one I credit with authoring the slogan of SCLC to “redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty.” Now frankly, we’ve made excellent progress in racism. I think, we’ve made progress in dealing with wars, but we’ve gone backwards in dealing with poverty.
Now, when I was in sixth grade, my sixth grade teacher took me to see Thurgood Marshall, a tall skinny man confront the Federal Courts of Louisiana about the equalization of teacher salaries. And so as a result of the war that was raised through the courts, we have Judge Benham on the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia. That’s got to be a change, but economically, we know that if we’re in a democracy and can’t vote, we’re slaved, but you-- if you’re in a free enterprise economy or capitalist economy without access to capital, that’s another form of slavery which we have yet to confront.
I don’t write recommendations to people to go to law school any more. I encourage PhDs in economics. And that’s where the battle is. But it’s not just a local battle, it’s a battle that we are now engaged in with Europe, with India, with China as the one who we owe the most money to. And then, there is the African continent, that is virtually the richest continent on the face of the earth that is economically underdeveloped. So, when we begin to understand economics in Africa, I think we’ll solve many of our problems.
BRENDA WOOD: All right, we’ve a question from a student.
NATALIE COOK: Hello everyone, my name is Natalie Cook, I’m a senior at Dekalb School of the Arts and a contributing writer for Vox Newspaper and the question I’ve for you all this evening is, Do you feel that the Civil Rights struggle is over?
BRENDA WOOD: I’d like to add-- ask Doug Shipman if you can give us your take on it?
DOUG SHIPMAN, panelist:
I think the resounding answer is no, it’s not over and it’s not only not over specifically as you’ve heard. There are specific issues that were dealt with or tried to be deal--dealt with during the Civil Rights Movement that are not over. But as the spirit, it’s not over. The Civil Rights Movement was about freedom. It was about self-determination. It was about what’s best of humanity in best in the individual. And if we look at these issues on an international basis, if we expand the discussions specifically to women’s right, you’re going to see the same sorts of struggles going on. So call it Civil Rights, call it Human Rights, it’s absolutely not over. And I love the quote from you mom, which says, it’s never over, it’s always won each generation. It’s like a garden you have to continue to tend or weeds will overgrow the fruit, but if you pick it, you can get better fruit each year and I think, that’s where we’ll always be.
BRENDA WOOD: All right, thank you. Economic power and affordable housing, they’re two very important areas that Dr. King focused on during his work, so, the question here is where are we now on those issues? We’re going to talk about that when we come back.
BRENDA WOOD: Welcome back, everyone. We’re taking a look at the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the modern Civil Rights Movement in our Town Hall meeting “Finishing the Dream.”
So, what are the issues still facing African-Americans today? Hoping to answer that question is a panel of distinguished guests. We’re going to hear from them in just a moment, but first economic power and affordable housing for all Americans, especially African-Americans, are a very important part of Dr. King’s vision.
So, we’re going to take a look at a piece of video of Dr. King being interviewed back in 1967 by NBC News on “Meet the Press.”
EDWIN NEWMAN, on “Meet the Press,” August 13, 1967: Our guest today on “Meet the Press” is Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose annual convention begins tomorrow. Dr. King’s latest book, “Where Do We Go from Here” has just been published.
HAYNES JOHNSON: One thing I’d like to know, Dr. King is, how do you reach the people in the ghettos that we’ve been talking about, the one percent, those who are committing violence and are rioters themselves. How do you reach those people?
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I think we must see that social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. As long as these intolerable conditions of poverty, a terrible housing conditions, and the syndrome of deprivation surrounding slumism. As long as these things exist, we have the dangerous possibility of people becoming so angry, so depressed, and so caught up in despair that they’ll engage in this kind of misguided activity. And I think the way to reach them is to get them jobs, is to give them a new sense of hope, a new sense of dignity, a new sense of self-respect as a result of a good solid job, as a result of a decent sanitary home in which they live, and as a result of a good school, the quality and everything else that their children can attend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is trying to reach out and grab a piece of paper.
RON MOTT, reporting on NBC Nightly News, August 11, 2010: In Metro Atlanta today, the top economy literally hit home as thousands lined up in stifling heat simply to get on the waiting list for Federally-subsidized public housing.
Ms. SELASI JENKINS: People are passing out. The ambulances are everywhere, they’re giving out water, I mean it’s crazy.
RON MOTT: Across the country, the numbers add up to desperation, homelessness is up thirty percent since 2007, more than a third African-American; unemployment nationwide, 9.5%, nearly sixteen percent for blacks; more than forty million Americans on food stamps, 32.8 million without health insurance. And with no subsidized housing currently available here and fewer than five hundred units total, applicants could sit on the waiting list for years and never find a place to live.
BRENDA WOOD: Well, certainly Dr. King understood how civil rights and economic stability work hand-in-hand, and still, today, there is what is called a “wealth gap.” I’m going to direct this question to Mayor Kasim Reed: what is the problem, where have we fallen short?
MAYOR KASIM REED, panelist:
Well, I think we’ve fallen short in a number of spaces. First of all, I don’t believe that we’ve had the concentration on education that is, career and job-specific and training in the areas where it is needed, really in poor communities, not just along racial lines, but among income lines. We’ve to remember on Dr. King’s last trip, he was focused on economic issues, and we have not focused on that and worked at it hard enough in specific ways.
BRENDA WOOD: Do you think that what we saw at East Point so recently and all of the chaos that surrounded it, do you see that sort of as a temperature gauge of the economic parity in this country with regards to civil rights?
MAYOR KASIM REED: I see it as that and more. I think we cannot ignore the fact that we’re in the worst economy that we have had since the Great Depression. We can’t ignore that. We cannot ignore that our economy is retracting. What we’re ignoring in Atlanta, in Georgia, and beyond this is that wages are not growing because we aren’t training our citizens to do jobs that are valuable. Right now, you have job openings, what you don’t have is job openings paired with job training. We could reduce the unemployment rate in the United States of America by two to four points if the people who were unemployed’s skills match the vacancies we have. We’re having to go beyond the borders of the United States and recruit other people from outside of the US to come in for those jobs and it expands the tension. It grows the rage and it’s bad for the country.
BRENDA WOOD: I’m going to open the question up, yes?
ELDER BERNICE KING: I’d like to comment on what the Mayor said in terms of matching the skill set to the jobs. What Daddy said in “Where Do We Go From Here?” in his appendix he talked about the fact that we can wait to get the people trained. We need to do on-the-job training. Give them the jobs first and then train them on the jobs.
BRENDA WOOD: All right we have a question from our student who has been standing there for a while.
BRIANA MCCARTHY: Hello, my name is Briana McCarthy, and I attend Chamblee Charter High School, and I’m a writer with Vox Communication. Now I would like to ask the panel, do you think that public housing is divided by race?
BRENDA WOOD: Is public housing divided by race?
MAYOR KASIM REED: I don’t think public housing is divided by race, because if you look at the racial composition nationally of public housing, it’s quite diverse. Public housing is actually divided, it’s set-- set apart by poverty. It’s driven by income. So the real improvements that we have to constantly make as President Obama talks about is if you raise the income level of people, you’ll be surprised how many African-American people you help if you improve incomes for all people, white people and black people.
DR. BEVERLY TATUM: But if I might interject, I wouldn’t comment on public housing per se, but if we look at housing patterns nationally, you certainly do see that there is still quite a lot of neighborhood segregation, and that is one of the things that contributes to the continuing school segregation, is that our neighborhood still are divided very much along racial and ethnic lines, in general. We don’t have necessarily the kind of segregation that was required by law or by racial covenants built into real estate policies that would – those things existed in the 50s, 60s, 70s and maybe they don’t exist in the same way. But you still see the patterns of segregated housing across the neighborhoods nationally.
BRENDA WOOD: Thank you very much. Startling statistic to give to you here, fewer than half of African-American males are graduating from high school. That’s according to a very recent study. Fewer than half. So what’s happening? We’re going to continue to explore that question as Finishing the Dream continues. We will be back in a moment.
BRENDA WOOD: Welcome back. Education was so very important to Dr. King’s message to young people especially. Somehow we are missing the mark there. Here is a story that recently aired on NBC’s Nightly News.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, on NBC Nightly News, August 17, 2010: Tonight, there is new evidence this country is falling far short, dangerously short, in just the number of Americans graduating from high school. The one number that jumps off the page is this one. Only forty-seven percent of this nation’s black males graduated from high school in the ’07-’08 year. A report tonight from our education correspondent, Rehema Ellis.
REHEMA ELLIS: More than half the nation’s black male students will not graduate from high school. According to report by the Schott Foundation, a nonpartisan agency that tracks public school performance. Among the worst performing public school districts with large black male populations: New York City and Philadelphia graduated only twenty-eight percent of black male students in 2008. In Broward County, Florida. the number was thirty-nine percent; Chicago forty-four percent; and Nashville, Tennessee, forty-seven percent. Far below seventy-eight percent, the nationwide graduation rate for all public school students and ninety-eight percent for private school students. The study emphasizes black males are less likely to have access to early education, highly effective teachers, and resources like tutors and well-stocked libraries. In Harlem, Geoffrey Canada has spent his career raising money to run his public charter school like a private school.
Mr. GEOFFREY CANADA: We can afford as a nation to remove the whole group of folks from being taxpayers and actually put them as expenses for the taxpayers to have to pay for.
REHEMA ELLIS: Success is happening in Chicago at Urban Prep Academy. The entire senior class in this all black male public charter school graduated and all are college bound.
Mr. TIM KING, Urban Prep Academy President and CEO: What we do at the schools we have an extended school day. We have an extended school year. We set high expectations. We give the students an opportunity and a pathway-- a roadmap to meet those expectations.
REHEMA ELLIS: And nationwide, governors in forty-eight states have agreed, it is time to raise the Common Core standards for children at every grade level to make sure they are on track for graduation and beyond.
BRENDA WOOD: I want to read a statistic. Forty-one percent, and it’s probably a little bit more than that because this is a few years old, forty-one percent of the inmates in federal, state, and local prison are black men. Forty-one percent, while black men are only four percent of all the students in American higher education. Something to think about. So I’m going to direct this to Dr. Tatum. Is it the system? What is it? Is it society?
DR. BEVERLY TATUM: Well I think when you look at examples of successful schools, like we saw in the clip of Urban Prep in Chicago, and you see that a hundred percent of those young black men are going on-- graduating from high school, going on to college and we ask well what makes them different from the kids in their neighborhood? It probably is not their family structure; many of them probably are also from single family homes or may be without father figures at home. But they’re in school settings where there are high expectations and where failure is not an option. So I think that we have to really look at the kind of learning environments we create. Are we creating enough places where kids are expected to be successful and where the expectation is, this may be hard, but you can do it? And we are not going to give up on you.
BRENDA WOOD: We have a very special guest in our audience today, who is now standing at the microphone, Farris Christine Watkins, is the great niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we are so glad that you are able to join us this evening, so what’s your question?
FARRIS CHRISTINE WATKINS: I’m from Wilbert Academy and my question is, as I understand it one of the most important contributions that the civil rights movement made to education was desegregation, what lesson have we learned from integration? And what should we focus on now? And what can we do as students, kids, youth, college students to help?
BRENDA WOOD: Great question. Who is tackling it first?
JUDGE ROBERT BENHAM, panelist:
Can I come in on that?
BRENDA WOOD: Yes, please Judge Benham.
JUDGE ROBERT BENHAM: It’s interesting that you would what-- what-- what mentioned that-- that this transition from anti-segregation to integration. I think there have been some misapprehensions. During segregation, we moved to integration and many people thought that they had to give up those things that were peculiarly black and take on the ways that are peculiarly white. And that resulted in the loss of our African-American businesses. It resulted in the loss of many of our fraternities and sororities and civic groups. At one time you had the Masonic organization that dealt with discipline, principles in the African-American community. You had the Heroines of Jericho, Eastern Star; all of those groups were helping to fashion the community. Somehow we thought we had to give up on those groups and take on other groups. We had to give up our businesses and go to other businesses. We allowed our foundation to deteriorate when we should have been building on those foundations. And now we are going to have to replace them or re-energize them. And what has happened with our young black man in that same regard is that in the Black Initiative – I have lectured it several of those black initiatives – same home, a black young man, fifteen; a black young lady, fourteen or fifteen. The young lady is doing terrific in school and the young man is failing. The problem is, if you blame the home and blame the child, you never have to deal with the institution that’s supposed to educate them.
REV. ANDREW YOUNG: I just want to point out one little thing. The big fuss now is blaming the teachers. And I mean teachers take care of 30 children at least everyday. It’s all I could do to take care of my four. We can’t blame teachers for everything wrong with the society. And if we are not careful all of these technicalities, will make us turn on each other, rather than toward each other.
MAYOR KASIM REED: I also think it’s important that the young lady also remembers that we have a difficult role in our generation, my generation and your generation. Because what Ambassador Young did and what Dr. Lowery did and Justice Benham is, they shattered barriers. And I just ask since you remember as you grow up and develop and lead, which I know you will, is that whenever barriers are shattered that that debris is often left in its wake. And that’s liberally what the generation before us. They shattered barriers that have been in place some more than 300 years and walking through that debris can be as hard as shattering the barriers in our own way because it’s a mess.
BRENDA WOOD: Wow.
MAYOR KASIM REED: So something positive happened and it explored it and Barack Obama got elected President and Brenda Wood sits as a news anchor at a desk and I'm a mayor of major American city, but there is still debris.
BRENDA WOOD: Mm-hm.
MAYOR KASIM REED: And our generation has the role of working through that debris, which is a denial of access to capital, which is a denial of appropriate job training, which is a denial of creating an entrepreneurial class. But the issues are gray now. See, during previous times denying someone access to an education was an issue that was framed in black and white, and people could see that one side was clearly wrong. What we do so much right now is we deal in gray, and use gray as an excuse to do what is right. There is no question that as a nation, we should have a national effort to address the number of African-American men who have failed to graduate from high school, not for African-American men because it should be a national imperative. Because the nation can’t compete with that much of the population not a part of society. But they use -- but those people who don’t really want to say what the real issue is would deny the United States of America to be the best that it can be which is by taking care of all of us, making well-trained African American man who then marry well-trained African-American woman who create stable families, who increase the size of the economy, create a healthier nation. So we can borrow less money from China and Saudi Arabia, that’s the national imperative.
BRENDA WOOD: Wow.
MAYOR KASIM REED: But it is up to us to have that bigger conversation.
BRENDA WOOD: Mayor Reed, you are so profound in what you are saying. I got goose bumps. You-- you-- you should go into politics.
We’re going to go through a break. It appears that fewer black students are attending historically black colleges and enrolling in white institutions and we want to, before we go my producer is asking me to ask this question, are black colleges relevant?
BEVERLY TATUM: Absolutely.
MAYOR KASIM REED: No question.
BRENDA WOOD: Of course, we’re at a black college asking that question!
BEVERLY TATUM: If I could say more about that, black – historically black colleges and universities represent about 2% of all the colleges and universities in the nation. And yet graduate 23% of all black graduates and so if we just looked at the productivity of HBCUs, we would see that they are still relevant. But in the context of the President’s challenge of 2020 to once again lead the world in the number of college graduates, it’s very clear that we cannot achieve that goal without the participation of strong historically black colleges and universities.
BRENDA WOOD: I'm going to leave it there. When we come back, we’re going to take a look at the role of youth play and the civil rights movement. The role of youth and how they played that role in the advancement of civil rights back in the 60s and how they played the role in the election of the first African-American President. We’ll be back with that, after this.
BRENDA WOOD: Welcome back. Lunch counter sit-ins, protests, marches, freedom rides: they are all indicative of the civil rights movement of the 60s. Young people were the key to the start of the civil rights movement. They were the key to the energy and the engine of the civil rights movement. And almost 50 years later, young people were crucial in helping to elect the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama, but where do we go and where do our youth go from here. Take a look at a report that was given on Nightly News from the election night of 2008.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: A whole of lot Americans saw last night’s vote as proof that the content of a candidate’s character and the high hopes and his ability to fix this nation’s problem won out over the color of his skin.
So tonight Tom Brokaw takes a look at the struggles several decades long that led in large part to what happened last night.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: I have a dream.
TOM BROKAW: It began with a dream that speech and the man who delivered it launched a crusade in America. A crusade met by a lethal violence in the streets and dark of night and resistance of the Congress, but the dream did not die. Even when it’s great to finding voice was still by gunshot, slowly, but steadily with the help of law and attitude, America was liberated from its racist legacy. The movements leader has moved on up, John Louis beaten in jail as a lieutenant of Dr. King is now a senior and influential congressman.
JOHN LEWIS: If Martin Luther King Junior could say anything today and I think he is looking down on all of us, who would just say hallelujah, hallelujah. He would be very proud of the distance that we’ve come.
TOM BROKAW: And Dr. King’s alma mater Morehouse College, new possibilities for our younger generation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was growing up, I used to turn around and saying hey, maybe I can be President, but you never actually thought it could be true. Now, you can actually see someone that sort of looks like you being in the position that you could possibly one day be in and opens up a whole new world to you.
TOM BROKAW: And a whole new world as well for students in New York famed Harlem neighborhood, a role model unlike any they have seen before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say to yourself I can be a President some day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a first African-American President. So, if he can do it then I think that I can do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I feel that he’s opening doors for me to challenge myself more.
TOM BROKAW: But do these young African-Americans know what a long, hard road this has been? Andrew Young, Dr. King’s young assistant traveled that road and became the UN Ambassador, Atlanta’s mayor, and a congressman.
Did you expect it would be more racism in this presidential campaign or less?
REV. ANDREW YOUNG: I expected a lot more and it was one of the reasons I was slow in my support, but I underestimated white America and I haven’t overcome completely the scars that I bare, but I had fewer of them, but Barack Obama did not have to grow up with those scars.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Tom Brokaw on the dream and the promise.
BRENDA WOOD: So, we’ll pick up with Judge Robert Benham. Have we dropped the torch? Including myself and the young people, have we dropped the torch?
JUDGE ROBERT BENHAM: No, we haven’t dropped it, we have been reluctant to pass it on. And what we’ve got to do is understand that the young generation now is uniquely suited to address some of the problems. Because unlike us, they are a generation that knew not segregation that gives them an opportunity to have a different mindset. With our generation, the question was, “Can it be done?” With this generation it’s, “Can I do it.” So, they don’t have the baggage that we had.
BRENDA WOOD: Rev. Lowry?
REV. JOSEPH LOWRY: I don’t think anybody would stop at them. I want to ask young people who’s stopping you? And I want to challenge young people to recapture that spirit that brought Barack Obama to the presidency.
Now that is done, I'm disappointed that the same young people have lost enthusiasm and they got to recapture it because unless they lead us back to the idea of what is right and wrong lead us back to the spirituality that we need, I'm afraid, we’re not going to make it.
And-- and-- and these young people have the stuff in them and nobody-- and nobody bla-- nobody is stopping you. How can they stop you? An elephant can’t stop you, the whole of the Chinese army can’t stop young people, you can do whatever you want to do.
And in fact if you are not doing, it’s your fault. And I challenge you as an 88-year-old man, get up, get up, and renew the power that you have when you brought Barack Obama to the President of United States, it’s your-- it’s your opportunity. And if you don’t do it, who will?
BRENDA WOOD: All right. I want to bring you into the discussion Elder King.
ELDER BERNICE KING: You know this is good what we are doing today, but we need to flip the script and we need a panel of Finishing the Dream with the next generation of young people.
The fact of the matter is uncle Andy and uncle Joe can correct me on this, but when SNCC got their start, they really got their start through the boosting and the support of daddy and the SCLC.
But the reality is that those young were trained in a discipline of nonviolence. There was training, there was development, there was organizing effect. Daddy used to say or did say before he was killed that the-- “the nettlesome task today is to organize our strength into compelling power,” and that’s where we’re today.
We really have to begin to organize and bridge across a lot of organizations and bridge across generations and move together in concert. But we need to make sure that we are affording more and more opportunities for the voice of young people to be front in center.
BRENDA WOOD: All right. I’m going to let Morehouse senior Jacques Pape have the last word on this and see-- is the young person on the panel if I can say that.
JACQUES PAPE, panelist:
I would say to say the least and I definitely agree with all the sentiments from panelists. Barack Obama became President, but-- and we’ve know we all rallied-- my generation all rallied behind him. But the struggle definitely doesn’t end there, because now he’s the President, he has to implement policies that will effect all of us. And those policies are also civil rights issues; health care, access affordable health-- healthcare is a civil rights issue.
He needed all of our support. Thankfully we rallied again, not just my generation, but everyone behind him. Now, we all have it. Europe has done it decades ago. What were we waiting for? Now, we have a lot of-- a lot more issues. We have education. We have housing. We have still the economic crisis to deal with.
So, you know, just all of these and never forget for a split second, that this is definitely a generational shift. And we have to understand that it’s our time and it’s just our time to stand up and take the charge.
BRENDA WOOD: Great last words. When we come back, the final days of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior his decision to address issues much larger then segregation and race. Back in a moment.
BRENDA WOOD: Finally tonight, look at the last days of Martin Luther King Junior. How the issues he faced are surprisingly similar to the very problems America is dealing with today.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: I have a dream today. I must confess that that dream that I had that day has at many points turned into a nightmare.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: In the final months of his life, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was under siege. For more than a decade as this nation's preeminent civil rights leader, he had helped transform this country through nonviolent protest. He'd won the Nobel Peace Prize, but by 1968 some blacks had grown more militant, impatient. Stokely Carmichael was among them.
STOKELY CAMICHAEL: We're going to shoot the cops who are shooting our black brothers in the back in this country.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: Stop the bombing.
BRAIN WILLIAMS: King had started speaking out against the war in Vietnam, but some civil rights leaders saw that as a distraction. And after years of confronting segregation in the South, he had taken on tough national problems like poverty and economic injustice.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee an annual income.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: But his attention turned to Memphis, where sanitation workers, almost all of them black, had been on strike for weeks.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR:I feel that we can still have a nonviolent demonstration and that we will have a nonviolent demonstration here in Memphis.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: That night, at a rally for the striking workers, King was defiant.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: So just as I say we aren't going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: But there was also something else in King's speech that night.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: Because I've been to the mountaintop.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: It sounded like a premonition.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The very next evening, standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Junior was hit by a single rifle shot fired from the window of a nearby boarding house. King’s body was brought home to Atlanta to the church where he’d preached.
It would take a long time for this country to heal from the wounds of 1968, a process some say continues today. It took a long time to fully appreciate what was lost when America lost Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR: Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.
BRENDA WOOD: Dr. King saying the dream has become a nightmare. So is that the case now? I shoot that over to Elder King.
ELDER BERNICE KING: Well, in-- in some respects I guess it has become a nightmare. Um, when we look at the conditions that effect people of color, all across this nation, not just in our community, but also in Hispanic and Latino community, there is a-- a void I think of something that Dr. Lowery spoke too. There is a void of the right kind of moral leadership.
And when I look at my father and I just examine the kind of leader that he was, we’re going to have to prepare more leaders like that. And I call it the-- the Four C’s of Leadership. Leaders of courage obviously that can stand against the tide of the status quo. Leaders of conviction, that won’t compromise and sell out. Um, leaders of commitment. People who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices and, then, leaders of compassion you know simple care and kindness so that’s my perspective.
BRENDA WOOD: Judge Benham I want to bring you in on this. Just, where do we go from here?
JUDGE ROBERT BENHAM: Well, let me take you my take on-- on the dream. I think what we are witnessing is that the dream has become bigger. This country is a melting pot of different people, different races, different cultures and different religions. But for the dream to become a reality we must realize that we have more things in common than we have things, which separate us. And if we work on the things we have in common, the things which separate us will be less and less significant.
BRENDA WOOD: Mayor Reed, what role do you see playing in the context of finishing the dream?
MAYOR KASIM REED: I think my role is very clear. I think we have problems and we’ve got to give up-- get up everyday and give it our full effort, you know, one of Dr. King’s most powerful quotes in my mind, I think about it almost everyday, but he said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards the justice.”
I would modify that to say that it does not bend on his own. It bends, because they are people, who at their time, at their moment, at-- at their place pull at it and tug on it. When you look at up on this stage, you see people that would bending it towards justice. And my generation has that obligation. So when I worked in open recreation centers, that used to be close, that are now filled with hundreds of children that didn’t have that access. When I saw that opportunity denied and I knew that I had it. And we restored it.
My message to the people in the audience today is you have to choose your lane right now and decide where you’re going to get in, where you’re going to make your difference. And ignore everybody else. Get in your lane and give it your full effort. My-- my lane has been politics and public service but make sure your lane bends the moral arc towards justice, because we’re the ones in the future that will be sitting up on this stage.
And I pray to God that we will have the kind of worth and be worthy of sitting on the stage with Dr. Lowery and Ambassador Young and Justice Benham. That’s something you’ve got to start earning right now. I pray to God that we would be worthy of that.
BRENDA WOOD: Mm-Hm. We’ll take a final question from our student.
ZEANDRA JACKSON: Oh, good evening. My name is Deandra Jackson (ph). I’m a sophomore English major from here at Spelman College. And my question, is, well, you all were somewhat addressing in it and let me just say, I-- I appreciate everyone being a part of the panel. I’m a native Atlantan and so to have former and current mayors and the President is a great thing.
So, unfortunately, I witnessed rallies going on this year, the same date that the Martin Luther King speech took place thirty-seven years ago, there was a John Beck rally, which was happening at the Lincoln Memorial, and, then there was the NAACP event happening across the street.
Um, and as-- as far as us becoming a post-racism society, how do we, like, dissolve the divide of the red and blue, of the conservative and the liberal? Like, where do we forge this humanitarian capitalism in this morally constipated society, as Cornel West defines it.
BRENDA WOOD: Got all that?
ANDREW YOUNG: Let me take a quick shot and say that remember Dr. King had completed his college degree three years of divinity school and three years toward a Dr.ate. Barack Obama has had a magnificent education. You don’t have to be anxious. This is a lifetime struggle. And if you’re not learning some calculus, you’re not going to understand the economy. If you’re not learning some foreign languages that you have to be prepared, because this struggle is just now beginning, because it’s a global struggle.
BEVERLY TATUM: And if I could add to that, its not-- you need to know those things too, but I also think it’s really important to understand history. If this audience was twenty years old that would mean they had been born in 1990.
And the reality is that a lot of what we are talking about happened before many of today students were even alive. My experience working with students is that they don’t really have an understanding of the history that led to today.
And, so as a consequence there’s a sense of the frustration that you’d talked about, Reverend Lowery, you know, an election took place, there’s some disappointment that eighteen months later everything hasn’t changed. But if we understand our history we know that things are-- it’s just constant struggle, it requires daily effort. And that after every period of progress there’s a period of regression that has to be struggled against.
You know, two steps forward, one step back and that’s just, you know, repeated over and over and if you don’t know that history, you’re doomed to repeat it.
BRENDA WOOD: On that note I want to thank our-- all of our panelists. We’ve come to the end. Unfortunate, because we could talk on and on and on and I know you have so much more wisdom to share with this, but we really appreciate you sharing some of it with us tonight.
We hope this discussion has challenged you in some way, especially the students and the audience here. We want to not only thank our panelists, but we want to thank you for-- for being a part of the discussion.
We also want to thank the WK Kellogg Foundation and NBC Learn for their support and putting this together and for bringing all of us together for what I think has been an unprecedented Town Hall meeting on Finishing the Dream.
And for over a hundred historic video clips of the civil rights movement like what you saw during this Town Hall meeting, you can go to nbclearn.com to see more.
Now, from the beautiful campus of Spelman College I want to thank you again. I’m Brenda Wood with the 11 Alive, WXIA-TV. Have a great night. Thanks for joining us.
Civil Rights Movement, African Americans, Blacks, Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College, Martin Luther King, Jr., Activism, Organizing, Social Justice, Racism, Economics, Poverty, SCLC, Joseph Lowery, Bernice King, Doug Shipman, Kasim Reed, Beverly Tatum, Jacques Pape, Robert Benham, Andrew Young, National Center for Civil and Human Rights