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The Case for Black With a Capital B

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Rev. Jonathan Walton on civil rights and social justice

by Talia Whyte


Dr. Jonathan L. Walton was the keynote speaker at the 43th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast on January 21.  The holiday celebrating the life of the slain civil rights leader also just so happened to fall on the same day as the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Walton was quick to point out this coincidence as well.  However, he mentioned to the crowd that while Obama’s reelection demonstrates the racial progress made in America, he said there are still many other social and economic inequalities that need the same amount of attention.

Towards the end of his life, King branched out his concerns to issues beyond civil rights for African Americans.  He gave his infamous speech protesting the Vietnam War at New York’s Riverside Church in 1967.  This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Poor People’s campaign, which King was working on just prior to his assassination.

One of the bibles President Obama was sworn in on was once owned by King, which caused much dismay to Cornel West.  The outspoken activist contests that Obama’s actions as commander-in-chief contradicts King’s message of hope and social justice.

A few weeks ago, West had even more stern remarks about Obama.

“I think that it’s morally obscene and spiritually profane to spend $6 billion on an election, $2 billion on a presidential election, and not have any serious discussion—poverty, trade unions being pushed against the wall dealing with stagnating and declining wages when profits are still up and the 1 percent are doing very well, no talk about drones dropping bombs on innocent people. So we end up with such a narrow, truncated political discourse, as the major problems—ecological catastrophe, climate change, global warming. So it’s very sad. I mean, I’m glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies.”

During the breakfast, Walton didn’t blame Obama for the country’s problems; instead he challenged the audience to be the change they want to see in the world to honor King’s life today.

“It’s easier to celebrate a dead icon than heed the admonitions of a living prophet,” he said.