By Frederick Spight, Policy Director
“Let us fight passionately and unrelenting for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love…”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words on April 7, 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. His sermon, entitled “Birth of A New Nation” was the first of many sermons in which Dr. King reflects and draws inspiration from his time in Ghana. The country had, just a month before, declared its independence from the British Empire and Dr. King was able to witness its beginning stages firsthand. Under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, who had spent roughly ten years in the United States, Ghana became a leader in the African and, arguably, world decolonization movement of the mid-to-late 20th century.
On Dr. King’s return to the segregated South he mused on the images he saw: Nkrumah’s first speech as president of the new nation while wearing the hat he wore in prison as a result of his activism, children running the streets yelling freedom and Nkrumah dancing with the Dutchess of Kent at the state ball, as equals. It was here that Dr. King said “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community”.
In Kingian philosophy the Beloved Community is one in which “… poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
On this Martin Luther King Jr, Day I reflect on the Beloved Community, as I tend to do from time to time. As a policy director, my goal is to craft legislation and advance the overall goal of achieving justice and equity for all Alabamians. As an attorney, my job is to ethically fight for the best of my clients, which historically, have been the poor and disenfranchised. As a husband, I believe it is my role to be supportive, kind and understanding through all the challenges that life throws. As a father, my goal is to lead by example so that my children can always fall back on the foundation of right and wrong that I set. Finally, as a Black man, I believe it is my responsibility to build a legacy for future generations to build upon.
In all of these roles, in isolation but also as they overlap, I aim to bring about the Beloved Community. But I am one person and to bring about the Beloved Community it will take the broader masses to believe and strive for the same end.
In our system of government, we elect leaders who then come together as one body to take on the task of passing laws, rules, budgets and the otherwise mundane (but extremely important work) of administering the touch stones of government in our daily lives. This is true in both our State and the federal government. This past week was the organizational session in which members, new and seasoned, of the Alabama State Legislature came together for the first time before the beginning of the regular session. People received committee assignments, were assigned offices, while also passing rules in how our legislative body would operate. There were talks of fairness and collegiality while making direct and indirect references to the state of our national discourse.
Recently, it appears that instead of being a bottom up system of governance, it has become top down. Those in power, the elected and those non-elected who have influence over our lawmakers, have begun to tell the citizenry what to care about, or more accurately, what to be enraged by. And this is evident as many in this state suffer from the injustice that is poverty and all the inequities that flow from it, while focusing on niche issues of culture or heady academic subjects.
Therefore, it would be naive to say that the polarization that affects this nation at our highest levels of government is not also present in this state. We see the effect all around us and inevitably we will see it this session. In these moments I hope all members of the Legislature, but more importantly all Alabamians, will to remember the words of Dr. King as he said “[w]e must come to the point of seeing that our ultimate aim is to live with all men as brothers and sisters under God, and not be their enemies…”
In reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King and the Beloved Community, we should also not miss the opportunity to reflect on our own legacies. What will people say after we are gone? Will we make the pages of history, or will we be forgotten in a generation? I can only imagine how Dr. King, a man who was despised and hated by many, would have reflected before he was martyred for justice. Maybe more importantly, how would he respond to the state of Alabama, this Nation and the World and those who use his name for their own goals.
In sum, I ask all of you who read this to reflect as I have: what role do you play in the Beloved Community and how will you bring it to be?
“Forward Ever, Backward Never”₃
₃ Kwame Nkrumah’s Conventional People’s Party slogan