“If I’ve been blessed to have another 10 years, never, ever, ever have I seen or will there be another Martin Luther King. Never, ever. The baddest dude on the Earth.”
The Stanford Report noted that Clarence Jones, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal attorney, advisor, and friend, said this with tears in his eyes when he spoke at Stanford University earlier this month in an event called “An Evening of Living History.” The conversation with Jones, which was held on Jones’s 93rd birthday, was part of a series of events at the university celebrating Dr. King’s birthday and the King Holiday. Stanford is home to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, and the MLK Institute said they wished to use this year’s events to “‘reintroduce’ Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ambitious agenda of his later years”—years Jones saw firsthand.
Among the pieces of Dr. King’s work the MLK Institute wants to highlight is the speech Dr. King gave at Stanford University on April 14, 1967 titled “The Other America,” where he argued, “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values”: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Lerone Martin, the MLK Institute’s faculty director, said King’s focus not just on racism but on all three “allows us to see King’s expansive vision of the complex problems that ail our democracy to this day.” Clarence Jones has reminded us of the same message.
In 2019, Jones convened an intergenerational, interracial, interfaith group of Civil Rights Movement veterans and next generation leaders who issued a call to conscience on Dr. King’s 90th birthday. It opened: “Today, as we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we watch in anguish as many achievements toward a more just and equal society we believed were secure are being eviscerated in front of our eyes . . . If we wish to honor Dr. King, we must shake the foundations of our grotesquely unequal social and economic order.” The statement then quoted the same passage from the Stanford speech above calling for a “radical revolution of values.”
We underscored the urgent need to heed that call today. “A Call to Conscience” ended with the conviction that it is time for a massive new nonviolent movement for justice and peace to save America’s soul:
“We will not stop until we eradicate the systemic violence inflicted on our brothers and sisters, and all of us, by white supremacy, and the legacy of chattel slavery; mass incarceration and militarism at home and abroad; sexism and gender discrimination in all forms; poverty in America among children, their families and adults who are alone; hunger and homelessness in the cities and rural areas of America and throughout the world; the proliferation of guns and opioids into our communities; environmental degradation and the urgent threat of catastrophic climate change. Are we still able to hear Dr. King’s trumpet of conscience? Do we have the collective will to reset the course of our society to realize his vision of the Beloved Community? We have a choice today, and it is the same choice Dr. King identified before his death: ‘The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence’ . . . We cannot repair America and the world with hate, only with love.”
This urgent choice still calls.
Marian Wright Edelman is the current President of the Children’s Defense Fund.