Sunday, February 27, 2005

Things To Do For Black History Month Day 27

Things To Do For Black History Month Day 27: Read The Writings Of Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As this month gets close to ending, I am going to suggest something that seems obvious that I almost didn't make this post. While I was growing up, Black History Month boiled down to Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite that, I think that people can learn something unique by reading the speeches and writings of Malcolm and Martin.

I especially think this is true of Dr. King. When I studied Dr. King as a kid, we always focused on the "I Have A Dream" speech. After all, it is his most famous speech, the one that he said at the March on Washington. There is probably not one person in America who doesn't know the words "I Have A Dream" are associated with Dr. King. However, let me share one personal experience that made me realize there was more to Dr. King than "I Have A Dream."

My church's African-American History Team was a group of young church members who recited speeches about African-American History every Sunday in February. One year, for example, we focused solely on black people in The Bible. I was on the team for a few years. When I was in high school, we did a special presentation for the final Sunday of the month. Our leader had us recite speeches by Dr. King. We did a variety of his speeches/sermons across his life in chronological order. I was given "Then My Living Will Not Be In Vain" (I believe that's the name), a speech that Dr. King made towards the end of his life. I vividly remember how much I liked that speech. He talked about how he wanted to be remembered and that he would rather be remembered for doing God's work than for any of his awards. It's a prophetic speech in some respects.

I think I especially want people to read beyond "I Have A Dream" because of what happened the day we did those speeches. Because "Then My Living Will Not Be In Vain" was given towards the end of his life, I did my recitation towards the end of the program. In fact, I came on immediately after the person saying the "I Have A Dream" speech. The "I Have A Dream" speech got a rousing response from the church crowd when it ended, a huge response. Then, I had to follow that with the more somber speech. I got cheers, but nowhere near as huge as "I Have A Dream" did. I felt kind of bad afterwards, but in hindsight, I know people didn't respond the same way because they didn't know that speech.

So, I suggest that you check out the writings of these two men. Dr. King's message is more complex and varied than the "I Have A Dream" speech. Another writing I would suggest reading is "Letter From A Birmingham Jail." If you think that Malcolm X just hated white people, you are missing the point. You are missing how he encouraged independence and self-reliance in African-Americans as seen in his famous speech "The Ballot Or The Bullet." These two men are the main ideological representatives of the Civil Rights Movement. Their names are repeated and repeated like the stuttering man does throughout Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. However, you won't really understand their impact without reading what they said and wrote, without understanding their philosophies.

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