In September of 1967 Nobel Laureate, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the American Psychological Association (APA) at their annual conference in Washington DC. During his address Dr. King demonstrated his thorough understanding of the United States and the direction in which the country was headed. When Dr. King implored the social scientists to “tell it like it is” he was speaking of America’s open distain for the black race. He spoke of the struggle for human dignity that is still a part of every black person’s daily life. Dr. King referenced S.M. Miller and Alvin Gouldner’s book “Applied Sociology” when he reminded the audience of their role in society. It is the historic mission of social scientists to enable mankind to take possession of society. As such, it is the role of those in the field of social science to speak out against the evils of racism and the disparate treatment of African Americans.
The fact that Dr. King’s remarks were made seven months’ before his assassination is a testimony to the overwhelming impression his address left on his mostly white audience.
Dr. King outlined three specific areas where the nation’s psychologists could help the civil rights efforts:
1) issues of black leadership and unity across socio-economic levels
2) political action and particularly the role and effectiveness of the vote
3) needed research on psychological changes in black Americans with the freedom movement, such as optimism versus pessimism.
During the subsequent 53 years since Dr. King’s address, his road map for success has been weaponized and used against the very people it was intended to help. Except for President Obama, every black leader who has reached national prominence has been publicly renounced. The voting rights of African Americans have been decimated and finally mainstream society has done everything in their power to ensure blacks remain pessimistic!
As the history of blacks in America continues to be marginalized it becomes vital that we re-visit historical antecedents for future direction. When one reviews the history of
Dr. King it becomes clear that the man was a genius. His ability to analyze the problem and origins of racism while articulating viable solutions in a concise manner is unprecedented. Maybe that is why most of his work has been archived and reduced to historical anecdotes. Another key excerpt from Dr. King’s address was, “society has never adjusted to racial discrimination, religious bigotry, economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence." Déjà vu all over again!
The true horror in America today is not the pandemic or police brutality. The true horror is that the legacy of a great leader has been commercialized and reduced to remembrance once or twice a year. Dr. King was a meticulous person who chronicled his every action. He did so in the hopes that those who followed him would have a platform to finish the work that he began. We can only hope that someone picks up the baton!