Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr

It was more than three decades ago when I first read King’s speech, “I Have A Dream” delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C in 1963. Of late, strands of the speech floated through my mind: “the quicksands of racial injustice”, “the solid rock of brotherhood”, “the cup of bitterness and hatred”. What had triggered these bits and pieces that were so deeply embedded in the recesses of my brain to resurface involuntarily again? Perhaps it was the pressing concern of most Malaysians: racial integration. Perhaps it was the Lina Joy’s case. Perhaps it was the late Sgt M Moorthy’s case. Or may be it was the recent MayBank fiasco.

I didn't want to bother over the reason. Instead, Iwent to the American Rhetoric website to find a transcript of King’s address, and lo and behold! I was not only rewarded with a transcript with a photo of the Baptist minister but also King’s recorded speech which Meeky downloaded.

It was an inspiring, exhilarating experience to close my eyes and listen to King’s strong voice, the cadence and rhythm of his words, the metaphorical expressions as they flowed into my heart and mind. Although it was speech on racial discrimination and injustice against coloured people in the US, it was as if he was speaking out against man’s cruel treatment of another, against the demon of racial discrimination and injustice:

America has given the Negro people a bad check --- a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds". But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check --- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice…

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood….

We can never be satisfied
as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one....

About sixty years earlier, Mary Church Terrell, a writer and civil rights activist addressed the United Women’s Club, Washington, D.C and spoke of the deplorable treatment of coloured people in the capital city. On any night, she recounted, she might come to the national capital, Washington, and walked for miles without finding a place to spend the night as a coloured person was “thrust out of the hotels of the national capital like a leper”. If she was hungry, she could not enter restaurants patronized by white people unless she was willing to eat behind a screen. If she tried to enter any of the vocations which her white sisters were allowed, the door was shut in her face. In some theatres she was excluded; in others she could only occupy seats set aside for coloured people. There was not a single white college, except the Catholic University, to which coloured people were admitted. In the matter of transportation, she had to sit in the Jim Crow** section of the electric car. Work was denied them except for menial jobs. Coloured teachers of the public school system were denied opportunities to head various departments however competent or superior they were.

I remembered too that racial discrimination and injustice in its most extreme form had destroyed millions of lives and livelihood: ethnic cleansing, the systematic extermination of a race from the face of this earth. I could remember off-hand some recent cases: the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzogovina, the slaughter of black Sudanese by Arab militiamen in Darfur, Sudan, and the extermination of Tutsis by the majority Hutus in Rwanda, Africa.

What sort of creature could be consumed by such a demon to carry out acts of atrocity against a fellow man?

* Photo from
**The Jim Crow laws required that public schools, public places and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks.