[Congressional Record Volume 150, Number 1 (Tuesday, January 20, 2004)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E11-E12]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]



                           HON. RUSH D. HOLT

                             of new jersey

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, January 20, 2004

  Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise to revise and extend my remarks.
  I submit to the Record the remarks of Dr. Valerie Smith, the Woodrow 
Wilson Professor of Literature and director of the Program in African-
American Studies at Princeton University. Dr. Smith delivered this 
speech yesterday, January 19, 2004, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, 
Jr. As you will see, the speech draws heavily on the words of Dr. King 
himself. I venture to say that Dr. King's words will continue have more 
lasting value than anything we say here on the House floor today.

                    [Keynote Speech, Jan. 19, 2004]

                In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


                           (By Valerie Smith)

       On December 10, 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
     accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the speech he 
     delivered on that occasion, he was careful to acknowledge 
     that he accepted the award not on his own behalf, but in the 
     name of all who made the Civil Rights Movement, and thus his 
     leadership, possible.
       ``From the depths of my heart [he said] I am aware that 
     this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.
       ``Every time I take a flight I am always mindful of the 
     many people who make a successful journey possible, the known 
     pilots and the unknown ground crew.
       ``So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who 
     have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into 
     orbit. . . .
       ``You honor the ground crew without whose labor and 
     sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left 
     the earth
       ``Most of these people will never make the headlines and 
     their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet the years have 
     rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on 
     this marvelous age in which we live--men and women will know 
     and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a 
     better people, a more noble civilization--because these 
     humble children of God were willing to suffer for 
     righteousness' sake.''
       On February 9, 1968, Dr. King preached what we might 
     consider to be his own eulogy from the pulpit of Ebenezer 
     Baptist. Ebenezer is, of course, the prominent black church 
     in Atlanta in which he grew up, which his grandfather and 
     father had pastored, and which Dr. King co-pastored with his 
     father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.
       This sermon, entitled ``The Drum Major Instinct,'' was, 
     like so many of his sermons, speeches and writings, at once 
     reflective and prophetic. In it, Dr. King analyzes the human 
     desire for greatness and recognition. He explores various 
     manifestations of this compulsion, from the personal and 
     insignificant to the national and cataclysmic. For from his 
     perspective, the desire among individuals ``to be important, 
     to surpass others, to achieve distinction,'' is linked to the 
     struggle among nations ``engaged in a bitter, colossal 
     contest for supremacy.'' As he puts it:
       ``. . . Nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. 
     I must be first. I must be supreme. Our nation must rule the 
     world. And I am sad to say [he continues] that the nation in 
     which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to 
     continue to say it to America, because I love this country 
     too much to see the drift that it has taken.''
       This sermon culminates in Dr. King's eloquent and 
     heartbreaking reflection on how he would like to be 
     remembered. He tells his congregants: ``If any of you are 
     around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long 
     funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell 
     them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I 
     want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a 
     Nobel Peace Prize, that isn't important. Tell them not to 
     mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, 
     that's not important. Tell him [sic] not to mention where I 
     went to school. I'd like somebody to mention that day, that 
     Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving 
     others. I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin 
     Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say 
     that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I 
     want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to 
     feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that 
     day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were 
     in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and 
     serve humanity.
       ``If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I 
     was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for 
     peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the 
     other shallow things will not matter.''
       Two months later, these words were broadcast at his 
       Each year at this time, as a nation we pause to remember 
     and to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin 
     Luther King, Jr. We typically recall the highlights of his 
     remarkable and all-too-brief career: his leadership of the 
     triumphant Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56; his climactic 
     speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 
     March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; his receipt of the 
     Nobel Peace Prize in 1964; his assassination in Memphis in 
     1968. Furthermore, typically, we replay the most familiar 
     sentences from his most famous speech, a speech we have all 
     come to know as his ``I Have a Dream'' speech. Those words, 
     of course, include the following: ``I have a dream that my 
     four little children will one day live in a nation where they 
     will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the 
     content of their character.''
       Without a doubt, the achievements that mark the high points 
     of Dr. King's career are extraordinary. And without a doubt, 
     his words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 22, 
     1963, are some of the most eloquent uttered by one of the 
     preeminent orators of his generation or indeed, any other.
       But by focusing on the same moments in Dr. King's life, and 
     on a few words from one speech in particular, we, 
     paradoxically, reduce him to the status of an icon. We do a 
     disservice to his memory, to the movement to which he gave so 
     much and in the service of which he died, and to the legacy 
     we seek to honor. For the struggle for freedom and equality 
     preceded and extends beyond what we commonly call the Civil 
     Rights Movement. As he suggests so eloquently in his Nobel 
     acceptance speech, The Movement was and is larger than his 
     leadership. And of course, Dr. King was much, much more than 
     these phrases and these moments.
       To limit him to a few words denies the boldness, the 
     complexities and the contradictions of his vision for 
     humanity. To freeze Dr. King at these moments of his greatest 
     visibility is to ignore his frailty, his vulnerability, and 
     his transformations. By seizing upon the image of Dr. King at 
     the pinnacle of his success or at the moment of his 
     martyrdom, we risk allowing him to stand in for the Civil 
     Rights struggle in its entirety, thereby rendering invisible 
     the less well-known or indeed unknown foot soldiers without 
     whom there would have been no Movement. To restrict him to 
     these few representations deprives him of the power to 
     inspire us to action. For if we believe that he was somehow 
     fundamentally and essentially greater than or different from 
     who we are, then we render ourselves unable to follow his 
     example. In other words, to limit Dr. King to a few phrases 
     and a few moments makes us complicit with an act of cultural 
     amnesia, perpetuated in the name of memorialization.
       Today I ask us to consider how we commemorate Dr. King not 
     to suggest that we as a nation dispense with such ceremonies 
     and celebrations. Rather, I raise these concerns in order to 
     challenge us to work out the most meaningful way to honor his 
     legacy. I want to suggest that as we remember Dr. King, we 
     commit ourselves to a vision of memory as a critical 
     function. Let us draw

[[Page E12]]

     inspiration from ``The Drum Major Instinct,'' look beyond the 
     prizes and the fanfare, and seek to explore the deeper, more 
     profound meanings of his life and ministry.
       We might use this occasion to question why certain moments 
     in Dr. King's magnificent body of sermons, speeches and 
     writings have achieved canonical status while others are all 
     but forgotten. We might seize this as the opportunity to ask 
     whose interests are served when Dr. King is remembered as the 
     champion of a color blind society and not, for example, as an 
     advocate for the poor or an outspoken opponent of war. 
     Indeed, we might take this opportunity to restore Dr. King's 
     notion of a color blind society to its original meaning. For 
     Dr. King used the term to refer to a society free of racial 
     subordination. Yet various political leaders and pundits have 
     appropriated the notion to justify their opposition to any 
     intervention by the state to eliminate racial subordination.
       In the spirit of Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 
     we might use this occasion as a time to commit ourselves to 
     learning more about the lesser-known activists associated 
     with the struggle, men and women such as Septima Clark, E. D. 
     Nixon, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, 
     Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Homer, Bayard Rustin, as well as the 
     many, many others without whom there would have been no 
     Movement. Perhaps most importantly, we might commit ourselves 
     to a critical, productive engagement with his words and his 
     actions so that we will be able to make his vision come alive 
     for us as we face the challenges of the present moment. For 
     the poverty, inadequate access to education, employment, and 
     health care, discrimination and military aggression against 
     which he struggled are still with us. They may have assumed 
     different forms, but we face them nevertheless. What should 
     we do in our daily lives to honor this drum major for 
     justice, peace and righteousness?
       During his lifetime, Dr. King was often criticized for 
     stepping outside the categories into which others sought to 
     confine him, his message and his mission. When, for example, 
     a group of Birmingham clergymen accused him of being an 
     outside agitator, he responded in his 1963 ``Letter from 
     Birmingham Jail,'' that
       ``Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We 
     are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a 
     single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly 
     affects all indirectly.''
       When he was criticized for speaking out against the Vietnam 
     War, and told that ``peace and civil rights don't mix,'' he 
     responded in a sermon entitled ``A Time to Break Silence,'' 
     delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City on March 
     25,1967 that he had ``a calling . . . beyond national 
       ``To me [he continued] the relationship of this ministry to 
     the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at 
     those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it 
     be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all 
     men--for Communist and capitalist, for their children and 
     ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and 
     conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in 
     obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he 
     died for them? What then can I say to the `Vietcong' or to 
     Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister if this one? Can I 
     threaten them with death or must I not share with them my 
       As we seek appropriate ways to remember Dr. King, we ought 
     be certain not to limit him in death as his critics sought to 
     limit him in life. He saw the interconnectedness of diverse 
     struggles against racism, imperialism and economic 
     exploitation. Our tributes to him must draw inspiration from 
     that vision, they must enable us to see beyond our local 
     interests and personal investments, and they must require us 
     to recognize our place in the network of mutuality within 
     which we are inescapably placed.
       The brilliant 2001 film Boycott, offers a compelling 
     example of memory as a critical function. In Boycott, the 
     director Clark Johnson expands our conventional 
     understandings of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This film works 
     to disabuse us of the notion that the Movement began with the 
     boycott by drawing a connection between the segregation of 
     public accommodations and the terror of rural lynch law. It 
     complicates our understanding of the leadership of the 
     Movement by pointing to the significant roles of figures such 
     as Joann Gibson Robinson, E.D. Nixon, and Bayard Rustin. 
     Moreover, it captures Dr. King's youth and vulnerability--at 
     the time the boycott began he was only 26 years old--thus 
     suggesting that he grew into the powerful, charismatic 
     presence we so commonly associate with him.
       What I find so impressive about Boycott is that it 
     contradicts the notion that memory need be static or fixed. 
     Rather, through its deliberate use of anachronism, it 
     exemplifies how memory can be made pliable, dynamic, active. 
     For example, it contains a dizzying array of visual images 
     from both earlier and later moments in history that subtly 
     link the boycott to previous and subsequent acts of struggle 
     and resistance. It incorporates diverse musical tracks--rock, 
     hip hop, gospel, jazz, alternative--from the '60s, through 
     the '90s--a technique that pulls the boycott out of the safe 
     past in which it has been enshrined. This compelling and 
     imaginative use of the soundtrack prompts viewers to consider 
     the enduring legacy of the boycott for the present.
       The film ends with a striking image that dramatizes the 
     kind of critical use of memory to which I've been alluding. 
     The closing credits roll over a shot of Dr. King, played by 
     the actor Jeffrey Wright, walking in 21st century Atlanta. 
     Looking somewhat bemused by the people he passes--a young man 
     carrying a boom box, someone else speaking on a cell phone--
     he stops to speak with a group of young African American men. 
     A police car approaches, slowing to check out this group of 
     men. The two officers, a Latina and an African American man, 
     wave somewhat ambiguously at King and his associates before 
     they move on.
       At one level this final scene would seem to evoke a 
     powerful, nostalgic longing for the martyred King. It might 
     seem to prompt viewers to wonder how different the world 
     would be if Dr. King were still here. But I believe that 
     something else is going on here. I believe that this final 
     scene is meant to inspire us to reflect upon the politics and 
     the act of remembering. The exchange of glances between the 
     officers and the black men on the street conjures up the 
     familiar iconography of the tense relationship between the 
     police and African American communities. In the context of a 
     film about the end of Jim Crow seating on buses in 
     Montgomery, this closing image links the protocols of 
     segregation to the violence and terror communities of color 
     continue to associate with law enforcement and the criminal 
     justice system. This gesture positions the boycott, and by 
     extension the Civil Rights Movement, within a broader history 
     of oppression and resistance. The deliberately anachronistic 
     shot of King speaking to the young men on the corner might 
     thus be read as a figure for the possibility of a critical 
     dialogue between the examples of history and the exigencies 
     of the contemporary cultural and political scene.
       I want to close with a passage from the end of King's Nobel 
     Prize speech that speaks powerfully to the present moment. 
     For even as he honors the men and women with whom he 
     struggled so tirelessly in the Movement, he denounces 
     military aggression and articulates a vision of global peace:
       I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after 
     nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into a hell 
     of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth 
     and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. 
     That is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil 
       I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining 
     bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I 
     believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-
     flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust 
     of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
       I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can 
     have three meals a day for their bodies, education and 
     culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom 
     for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have 
     torn down men other-centered can build up. . . .
       This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of 
     the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we 
     continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When 
     our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our 
     nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know 
     that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine 
     civilization struggling to be born.