Boston, Boycotts, and BREAD

01/18/2017

Tonight I’ll be in Boston for a discussion about race, business, and economic empowerment. Dr. King’s words are in my heart as I think about the work Leora and Justin, along with the rest of the BREAD Boston team, are doing.

“Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.”

Those were the opening statements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech on April 3rd, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee the night before he was assassinated. His message included remarks about nonviolence and peaceful protests, but the central thrust of his message was the Memphis sanitation strike.

“The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.”

Today, blacks and whites universally revere Dr. King as one of the most significant public figures of the century, but in 1966, Dr. King’s unfavorability among white Americans was 72%. And it was his message of economic empowerment that made him such a threat to the establishment.

“Go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy – what is the other bread? Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.”

The 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott wielded a devastating blow to the system of segregation in Alabama on June 13, 1956 when the District Court ruled that the segregation enforced on the Montgomery motor buses was unconstitutional. This was the first large-scale protest against discrimination in the United States, and in the wake of this action emerged a charismatic and revolutionary young pastor by the name of Martin (born Michael King) Luther King Jr.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”