Inspiring Keynote Address at Antioch Martin Luther King Day Event

Rev. Keith Archuleta gives the keynote address at Antioch's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Antioch High School's Beede Auditorium, as event coordinator and Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper listens.

City of Antioch Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration, 2012

Keynote Address

by Rev. Keith Archuleta

Good afternoon. It is my honor to be before you this afternoon as we commemorate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you were to visit Memphis – and go to the site where Dr. King was assassinated – on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, you would find there not a statue, but a simple plaque, quoting the brothers of Joseph, written in the Book of Genesis Chapter 37:verses 19-20, stating:

Here comes the dreamer. Come now, let us kill him…and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

For there were those who said of King, “Let us kill the dreamer…and see what becomes of his dreams. But, though they may kill the dreamer, they couldn’t kill the dream.

In 1954, in Montgomery, Alabama, King, just 25 years old, began serving as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a little church in the heart of the Jim Crow south, as segregation laws were being challenged.

In 1955, a courageous Black woman named Rosa Parks refused to sit in the rear of a public bus, violating Montgomery’s segregation laws and affirming her own dignity. She stood up for justice by sitting down in the front of the bus, the section reserved for whites only. It is in this context that King emerged as a leader of the civil rights movement.

Note that 1955 was still less than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the close of the Civil War. But even though slavery ended, Black people in the south would be free citizens for only a period of less than 15 years.

In 1865, there those who wanted to kill the dream.

Dream killers like the Ku Klux Klan, the first home-grown terrorist group in the US, emerged after Blacks were freed from slavery, and they joined with the aristocracy of the former confederacy to take the south back, back to the days when Black people were a subjugated people.

By the 1880’s, through terrorism and legislation, southern states began to forge apartheid, called Jim Crow, and it impacted the psyche of all America.

Robert Kennedy described the impact of this element of American history in this way:

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.”

During Jim Crow, not just in the South, but throughout the US, Black people were relegated to second class citizenship, openly lynched, denied the right to vote, confined to the most dilapidated schools, more likely to be accused of crimes and convicted, denied equal pay, denied access to employment, housing, and public accommodations and eating establishments.

So, when we thought we’d won our freedom

Twasn’t long ‘fore we found out

That right here in America

Freedom and democracy had been sold out

Though we’d fought for Reconstruction

And worked for forty acres and a mule

Through the use of terrorist violence

The Klan soon brought back white rule

Oh children ‘twas a terrible time

Throughout the South you see

Jim Crow took away our land, our vote

And Black life was hung upon a tree

So again the struggle started

Ah, but you shouldn’t be surprised

And inspired by Garvey, Robeson, Dubois

folks were on the rise!

Jim Crow laws they started breakin’

from Greensboro to Little Rock

They joined in organized action to put

U.S. apartheid into shock

And from Newark to Detroit and Watts

They were dancin’ in the streets

From Montgomery to Mozambique

They were movin’ to a brand new beat

And so to folks like Fannie Lou, the Panthers, and SNCC

King, Malcolm, Cabral

To the everyday people fighting for power,

For peace and justice for us all

And to those who sang “you can make it if you try”

“keep on pushin” to “higher ground”

And those who said, “It’s nation time!”

And “I’m Black and I’m proud!,” we sing:

Thank you for lettin’ me be myself again!

Thank you for lettin’ me be myself again!

Thank you for lettin’ me be myself again!

Thank you for lettin’ me be myself again! 1

Even though there are dream killers, there are also people of vision.

The efforts of civil rights activists culminated with the milestone passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But King’s outspoken criticism of the Vietnam War and for the plight of the poor caused him to be a target of the CIA and Hoover FBI counter-intelligence program, Cointelpro, to discredit King and other civil rights and anti-war leaders. The dream killers hoped to kill the dream.

Yet King continued on, remaining steadfast to his ideals of non-violence and his call for a better, more just society.

The Poor People’s campaign of 1967 would prove to be King’s last major effort. In 1968, he traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers, where he gave what would be his final speech. The next day, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Let us kill the dreamer…and see what becomes of his dreams.

We know that there is no freedom without sacrifice. In reality, we all stand in the footsteps of countless, courageous unheralded leaders and followers of the civil rights movement in America. We stand on the shoulders of giants, King and countless others who sweat, bled and died to make real the promises of our democracy, so that all American children could have an equal shot to make it in this nation.

Yet, the dream of our democracy is still not yet fully achieved. We still have yet to become a nation with, “liberty and justice for all.”

Still in America, too many do not have access to decent, safe housing, adequate health care, and a thorough education. Too many still face painfully persistent poverty. Too many live in the grip of gun violence.

Too many have given up hope and too many languish in despair and confusion, and sadly, far too many suffer from short-sighted vision, or a lack of maturity or a lack of understanding of personal responsibility.

Too many in this country are filled with fear and bound by the shackles of hatred and anger and ignorance and prejudice. Too many seek only self or the opiate of fame or are consumed with greed and power.

King’s question of where do we go from here, chaos or community, is still unanswered. The story is not yet finished…

So, I say, to truly celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., we must understand the cause for which he died. More importantly, I say, we must commit to the ideals for which he lived.

This generation must keep the dream alive. Let us not be lulled into a state of inactive agitation, where we are very upset about the state of our nation, but we fail to get up and work together to do something about it.

And let us not allow our inability to do everything, undermine our determination to do something.

We are reminded of what Everett Edward Hale said: “I am only one, I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

It is time for daring, determined dreamers and doers to rise again.

The change we seek must come from neighborhoods, communities and individuals all across our city, our nation and the world. It must come from us in the church, the synagogue and the mosque, on the playground and in the work place, in the classroom and in the boardroom.

King gave his life working for what he called the beloved community. My wife and I feel that to carry on the legacy of King we must work to build beloved communities, which we call, high performing communities.

Antioch can be a beloved community, it can be a healthy, caring community, it can be a prosperous community with safe streets and schools that graduate students ready for college and career.

We are one city, let us be one community.

Each day, my wife and I pray for every family and every situation here in East County, and we continuously pray for all of our young people and that we do not lose even one more of them to gangs, violence, abuse or drugs.

It is time to redefine our relationships in this community, with one another, to the Earth and to the world; to redefine the meaning of community; to feed hope, and not nurture despair; to find the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families. It is time that each of us becomes the change we want to see in the world.

Because it:

Seems like so long since Rosa Parks just said “NO!”

and King walked down that freedom road

To remind America of the fierce urgency of the moment…

Dr. King said, “I have a dream.”

But more than that

Dr. King said, “The problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius,

We’ve failed to make it a brotherhood…

Tell them Dr. King

The hour is late and the clock of destiny is ticking out…

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Now is the time, to make justice a reality for all of God’s children….

For, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

We are are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

Heal them Dr. King

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom

by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone and we cannot turn back…

When evil men plot, good men must plan…

When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind…

When evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo,

good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice…

Teach them Dr. King

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that…

I believe that unarmed truth & unconditional love will have the final word…

That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant…

So, let us not wallow in the valley of despair;

I say to you today my friends that in spite of all the difficulties

and the frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream!

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream

That my four little children, will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!”

We share your dream Dr. King

This is our hope, this is the faith that moves within us…

With this faith, we will be able to transform

the jangling discords of our nation

into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and sisterhood

With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together,

to struggle together, to go to jail together,

to stand up for freedom together…”

Knowing that our cause is just

And through our struggles, through our suffering, through our sacrifices

We will be able to make real the dream of democracy, peace, and justice

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city…

this will be the day when all of God’s children

Black, Brown, and White; Jews and Gentiles; Protestants and Catholics

Will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,

Free at last, free at last

Thank God Almighty

We are free at last!” 2

1. Thank You

©1991 Keith Archuleta

2. Black Liberation Suite

©1986 Keith Archuleta

  • Including compilation of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream” speech delivered in August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., his “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in April 1968 in Memphis Tennessee his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written April 1963 to challenge the inaction of local clergy and from his books, including Strength to Love, Why We Can’t Wait, Stride Toward Freedom, and Where Do We Go from Here? From Chaos to Community.

    Reprinted with permission.

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