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Elaine Brown
Activist and Former Black Panther Party Leader
Keynote Speaker: Annual Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration, UVa
January 25, 2005

Dr. King has been identified as having a dream. Nobody seems to remember what the dream was. Just had a dream: little children walking together up a mountain, something, you know. Whatever it was, black and white together. Color of our character, we don’t know what it is; just had a dream. It sort of ended in ’63 even although he did live five years after that. And the other thing that is promoted about King in the mass media and in the mass culture is that he was non-violent. And that’s especially pointed to you black people to remember that King was nonviolent. So anytime you get crazy and start talking about finding any other ways of discussing anything, just remember this, King was non-violent. We don’t know what he was non-violent about. We don’t even know if he was non-violent, per say. We know he was not like those black militants, those Black Panthers, those black power seekers. He was non-violent and so you should follow that example and be non-violent, which is really translated into being passive. And King was of course never passive. So the first thing I think that we have to talk about this business of who Dr. King was and the whitewashing of King. I was looking at different websites and things, I saw that King’s face has actually been lightened. Anybody notice that his skin is getting lighter and lighter as the years go by and the brother who played King, I was actually shocked you know because King’s face keeps getting lighter and lighter and he’s becoming more and emasculated, more and more non-violent, more and more nebulous dreaming. Not sure what the dream was so I think that our history gets retold every five years or so. By the time we look at this history, if we’re not careful, in another fifty or so years, King will actually be identified as a white woman. Sort of the way Condoleezza Rice identifies herself today. I wish I had written this line, but Amiri Baraka says, “What kind of skeeza is Condoleezza?” I love that line. It’s just a great line. And the funny thing about that line is it refers to her name and I wondered what kind of name that is. You know Cosby, who has denounced everybody black and poor, says that people naming their children ignorant, backwards names in the ghetto like Shaniqua and he also includes Muhammad, which I found interesting. Cosby talks about people’s names and how black people are failing to achieve and failing to live up to the vision of Brown v. Board of Education, because it’s not any problem in America, but it’s a problem of us not taking care of our own children. Not sending our children to school, buying five hundred dollar sneakers instead of two hundred dollar Hooked on Phonics, whatever that means. But in any case, I am wondering why the school system is not paying money for hooked on phonics or whatever he thinks people should be learning. But I find that interesting that he would denounce black people for being too ghettoized in our names and so forth and so on, but said not a mumbly word about a woman named Condoleezza Rice who seems to be a success model for some people because that’s about as ghetto as you can get. Condoleezza? Plus it’s spelled wrong. But anyway. I only say this stuff because people make me angry when they attempt to blame the victim for the crime. And we forget who Dr. King was. We’ve now flipped him into this sort of namby-pamby, no count person who doesn’t really have anything to say other than to be non-violent and stuck in the “I have a Dream” Speech, which he made many, many other speeches after, but also more importantly, did something. He was not killed as a result of Memphis; he was killed because he was really doing some other more important work called the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington.

You know the thing about what would Martin say that’s important because we do have to analyze this question in terms of today’s society and we could guess a lot of things. Like we could guess, given his stance against the Vietnam War, that King would probably be opposed to the War in Iraq, don’t you think? I mean, it wouldn’t take very much of a thought process to go from Vietnam, Iraq. None of us can even justify Iraq as well as Johnson justified Vietnam, but we still talk about save our troops. Well it’s about the troops and we don’t want to denounce our troops and whatever else it is, but you know King talked about our need to be not politically expedient but our need to be morally right. But we haven’t seen these voices in the pantheon of the Negroes who have massive voice today saying a mumbling word about the War in Iraq today. But we can probably guess that King would absolutely be opposed to the War in Iraq because there is no reason why this country, which has actually nothing to do with me but has a lot to do with a lot of other people who think, “Well it’s my country, right or wrong”, think that well we’re out there to save our troops and to help our troops and that’s what we need to focus on as though it doesn’t matter that we’re killing a whole bunch of people that, as we used to say back in the day, “Never called us nigger”. But I want to talk about what would Martin say in the context of this country now and I want to bring us back to the moment in 1993 after Bill Clinton was elected President who many, many people - well not many, many - some people actually call the “Black President”. Said he was the first black president. Well I find that interesting because I have no idea why anybody said that. I mean, I don’t know was it his lips? Why would Chris Rock who is about as apolitical as they come, suddenly decide to make a commentary on Clinton being the first black president and that black people voted for him with such enthusiasm even though of course he gave us the three strikes crime bill on the welfare reform bill and so forth and so on. But you know, he sold that to us. You know Trick Daddy said, “This plan wasn’t told to me, it was sold to me”. And that’s what Clinton did. He sold the plan to all of us that the problems of black America today are not the fault of America; there’s a fault of you. Something’s wrong with you. And in 1993, he had the arrogance to stand in the last pulpit where Dr. King spoke in Memphis, Tennessee November of ’93 and ask this very same question. He stood before a group of blacks with a black choir behind him at the church there where King had given his famous speech, “Been to the Mountain Tops, seen the other side, might not get there with you, but I know we as a people will get there. Fearing no man tonight. I’ve been to the mountain top.” Here was Clinton all these years later having the arrogance, Little Rock, Arkansas Clinton, coming up to the pulpit where Dr. King stood in the last night of his life and saying, you know I wonder if Dr. King were alive today…actually he says if Martin were alive today, as if he was his friend, when you know you can see Clinton out there living two seconds from Central High School in Little Rock standing out there with everybody else in the crowd throwing rocks at the Little Rock Nine. But in any case, here is Clinton what would Martin say if he were standing by my side today. Now the vision that Martin Luther King would be standing by Clinton’s side is just so arrogant to me that Clinton would propose, would presume to have Martin Luther King stand by his side. And he said, “I wonder what would he say?” And Clinton said, “ I believe Martin Luther King would say ‘I died for your freedom, but look what you’ve done with it.’” And the black people hung their heads in shame. He hadn’t even gotten finished slapping them and they hung their heads in shame. “We’ve died for your freedom and look what you’ve done”.

Now people actually hear that and don’t hear the curiosity in the notion that King, first of all didn’t die. He was killed. He was actually assassinated. And anybody walking around here truly believing that James Earl Ray, who could not pass the marksman test in the Army, actually figured out how to kill Dr. King after he moved from one hotel to another, from the first floor to the second, diverted to Memphis from D.C., and so forth and so on, and figured out how to get to London and get back and get a passport. Anybody who believes all of that, you know, I’ve got a bridge in wherever those things are. So the question is to remember that Martin Luther King was assassinated. So when we remember the dream, we forget who slew the dreamer. We don’t remember that do we? We just go along saying, well he died; he died for our freedom. So the second problem I have with Clinton’s analysis is, and we used to say in the Black Panther Party, “In order to come to a correct conclusion, you have to have a correct analysis”. So you have to at least have your facts straight. So to say that Martin Luther King died is wrong. And secondly to say, “to die for our freedom”, that meant that at some point we had been free and we had messed up our freedom. Like we had been free - after he died, we became free and then we messed it up somewhere between ’63 and ’93 according to Clinton. And I find that to be curious because I was alive on April 4, 1968. I was alive and I lived in California at the time and I could recall when King was killed and everybody went crazy. There were one hundred uprising in cities around this country. Black folks tore this country apart. Non-violence is dead; it’s on. That’s the way people talked in those days. When I woke up that morning on the fourth of April, I knew that black people in America were not free. Now when King was assassinated, I woke up the next morning and I did not detect any change in the status of black people from that night before and haven’t detected any since that time. So I was trying to wonder at what point were we free that we had messed it up. Was it like around three o’ clock am on west coast time and I had slept through freedom ‘cause I know I missed it. But “King died for our freedom and look what we’ve done with it,” said Clinton. And Clinton suggests that what we have done with our freedom in America is that we have become our own worse nightmare; our own problem. “That insidious black on black crime,” he said. And the breakdown of the black family and of course, the worst: the unwed teen mother. And everybody was thinking, you’re right. This is the problem in our community. People have memories about cities that had great barbecue joints and great barbershops, you know little businesses and all these little thugs are running around, and these bad girls, unwed mothers, walking around and everybody named Shaniqua and Shontranae and all these other people are walking around. It’s our fault if we’re oppressed. Killing each other and black on black criminal activity. So I began to wonder how he could make this statement without examination because it reminded me of so many similar statements that have been made about black people, but let’s just take it for what it’s worth. You know, the larger number of overall crimes committed in America are committed by white people against white people. So actually white on white crime is the more dominant, but nobody thinks of that as horrible. As a matter of fact, when we think of crime, we don’t even think of white people.

You know, the book I’ve written about Little B, and I could recall when Little B is charged with this murder. They say look at him he’s a thug. At the same time there was a kid in Oregon and his name was Kip Kinkel and Kip was fourteen years old. And Kip got up one morning and he killed mom and dad. You know, stuffed them up all up underneath the house. Wired the house up with a little bomb. Put some handguns in a backpack. Carried an assault rifle. Taped a hunting knife to his chest, went off to school and shot up twenty-three of his best friends. Killed three of them, plus mom and dad. And the next day, everybody was just so shocked that Kip had done this. So they put a banner in front of the school and that sort of became the headline in the newspaper and that sort of became the theme in America during that period when a bunch of little white kids were killing everybody. You know Columbine, and this little burst of little killings in the schools. And it said Why Kip? Why’d you do it? Were you feeling bad that day? Of course Kip was feeling bad. He has killed his mother and father. Are you feeling alienated? What’s wrong? What’s the problem? Now black boy is a thug and a super-predator and a criminal. Hasn’t even gone to trial. But Kip, we know he’s killed mom and dad. We know he’s killed his friends, but what’s wrong Kip? Are you feeling bad? Too many violent videos? Let’s examine the media in America. We don’t think of Kip, we don’t think of the boys in Columbine as criminals, do we? Because crime in America is only a black thing because crime is a political question. It’s not a moral question. Why isn’t it a moral question? Well because we can look at a situation like, well, let’s just take Panama. When Colin Powell led Bush’s troops into Panama to arrest Noriega who had been on the CIA payroll for so long almost no one can recall when he wasn’t on the CIA payroll. A known drug trafficker went into Panama with all these troops and Black Hawk helicopters and tried to arrest Noriega, who just wasn’t going to go down easy and who was eventually arrested, but in the meantime, there were five thousand Panamanian people who were killed. We don’t even talk about those people. You know why? They don’t count. They’re Panamanians. They’re like Iraqis. Irrelevant. And we certainly don’t call that mass murder, do we? We don’t charge Colin Powell with mass murder. Somebody might want to. I may be one of the people to say, “Order in the court”. But Colin Powell, said, when asked about, do you think you used extraordinary force just to go in there and arrest Noriega, you could’ve gotten him, he didn’t die and all these other people did die, and he said, “I don’t deal with numbers, I deal with results.” But we don’t think of Colin Powell as a mass murderer….or George Bush or any of these other people. We think of Little B’s and all these little black children so when Clinton tells us that black on black crime is one of the problems we have in America, we say, “You’re right master Clinton. That’s what we’ve done. We’re killing each other in these drug wars, these crack wars and so forth”.

And the second thing of course is the breakdown of the black family. The audacity to speak about the breakdown of the black family in the face of two hundred and fifty years of slavery in which the family was so broken down and destroyed from day one, it was almost a shame. You lucky we can figure out how to even say the word family, much less be one given the history of our people. And then the insidious black unwed teen mother. We know statistically that the number of teenage pregnancies in the nineties was lower than it was in many decades before. As a matter of fact the decade that had the highest percentage of teenage mothers, black or white, was the 1950's. So we just take any fact and just make something out of it. We’re just going to create a problem of the black teen mother. And why did Bill Clinton do that? He did it so he could create, take the Nuke Gingridge contract with America and run it down piece by piece. First one was, we’re going to get tough on crime and tough on crime means tough on black folks so as a result, we get the three strikes crime bill or where I live in Georgia, we had a two strike crime bill and that means that the population of America’s prisons has increased and doubled since that bill was passed in ’94; two million, over two million people, more than any other country in the world, fifty percent of them black. Fifty percent black. Well, some people may say, well there’s a reason for that; black people are the only ones committing crimes. Maybe we have a criminal gene. You know people study that. I bet you there’s somebody in this room who thinks there is such a thing as a criminal gene. People in Criminal Studies are trying to find out. They have experiments going on everyday. Columbia University had an experiment on “is there a criminal gene?”. As though crime were a biological question. I just told you crime is a political question. Because you can kill someone in America with impunity. Coming in your house or look like they come in your house, or the crime of walking and breathing while being Amadou Diallo. You can get forty-one bullets in your body in that’s not a murder, that’s just an excessive force. So we know that the question of crime and biology are different, but we start to buy into this stuff.

You remember The Bell Curve was like a number one best seller in 1994, around the same time that Clinton was passing the Crime Bill? And The Bell Curve, written by two white professors, one of them who was dead at the time of publication, Herrnstein and Murray; they assert that blacks are inherently intellectually inferior to whites. Herrnstein and Murray assert that the reason that we know is that first of all, that intelligence can be measured. And I find this to be a curiosity because what is the measure for intelligence? I think of a welfare mother living in Georgia on $235 a month trying to make ends meet for her child, pay rent, eat food, and having a place to live and all this other stuff and going on and making every month, is a genius. Because for me $235 a month is not going to get it. You know. I think you are a genius. So what is it that would make you think that there was some sort of natural intelligence when we don’t even have a good definition of intelligence? But you know, people buy into this. He’s gifted. She’s gifted. Herrnstein and Murray say that there is intelligence and it can be measured scientifically and that the measure for intelligence is the SAT, which I really found to be just a joke. Well you know in my day the SAT was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test as though it were some sort of test of your inherit intelligence, which we don’t know about. And then it became the Scholastic Assessment Test and now it’s just the SAT. You just have to take it. You don’t know what it is; you just have to take it. You can’t really describe the SAT.

I have contended in the past that I can teach my dog Spot to come into the top ten percent on the SAT. Give me enough biscuits, six months of training and I know that I can say okay Spot, when you see this, just arbitrarily pick something and I’m gonna give you a biscuit. Spot will do just as well as most people do because the SAT measures absolutely nothing. According to Dr. Richard Atkinson, who is the President of the University of California who no longer bothers to use the SAT as a primary measure of anybody’s entrance qualifications, the only measure the SAT has is how well you take the SAT. And that’s it. It’s like garbage in, garbage out concept. And nevertheless, Herrnstein and Murray report to define the SAT as a measure of intelligence and that the failure or the failures of blacks to be able to have the same test scores as whites consistently shows that blacks are intellectually inferior and that this is an inherent quality with those few exceptions that they would identify and that therefore, there is no point of putting money in public education for black people because they are too stupid to learn anyway. And that is the conclusion that they make. And if you don’t know that, go ahead and read through that stuff and find it. And then black people got excited and people were arguing, “Well is the test culturally biased?” Nobody cares; what is it a measure of?

I’ll tell you what culturally biased is: it’s when we get to questions of Jefferson - which you know I have to talk about, here in Virginia at the University of Virginia - who also felt that black people were inherently inferior in so many different ways. We talk about inherent intelligence so when we looked at Martin Luther King in the context of what would he say, we have to look at what is the status of black people as he did. So we sort of have to compare one thing and another. And today in America in order for us, as he talks about it as where do we go from here; a great speech that he made in 1967 to the SCLC Convention and talks about in order for us to know where we go from here, we have to know where we are now. Let’s assess where we are and he talks about the status of blacks in America so in order for us to talk about what would Martin say, we have to talk about the status of America and in particular, the status of blacks in America.

And so when we look at the prison numbers for example, as I just mentioned, we have one million black people in prison in America and not only that, many more who have been in prison and who have relatives that have been in prison and so on. And so we look at that and say, what is the problem? Is there a black criminal gene? What is the reason that all of these people are in prison? Are they making bad choices? I love the bad choice one. Are they making bad choices like, should I become President of the United States because if I believe this nonsense, I can become anything I want to become? Or are they just making bad choices about their lives and their decisions because this is all an individual question. So the reason that there are a million black people in prison is because there’s just so many more black people, compared to the thirteen percent population that we represent, there’s just so many more black people who are running around behaving in criminal ways. There’s nothing wrong with the system, it’s something wrong with these black people out here stealing and raping and doing all these other things, especially rape. And then we have the same statistic that we had in King’s day – the infant mortality rate among blacks is double that of whites. So these black mother must be some trifling, no count, not taking care of their children, letting their children just die because it doubles the rate. The way that people think the “down-low” brother is the reason that we suddenly have an increase in the percentage of AIDS among black women. I’m not even going to get into the notion that suddenly we’re also promiscuous and that white people are obviously not promiscuous but we are promiscuous and we are trifling because we don’t have safe sex and black men are all gay and we are lying. And so all of that is the reason why we have AIDS in America. That 65% of the women in America and 65% of the children in America who have AIDS are black. There must be something wrong with black people because we are so poor. We have the highest poverty numbers. In Brunswick, Georgia where I live now, 57% entrenched poverty. We have the lowest income, lowest education numbers and so forth. And of course as Cosby would say the reason why we have low education is because we are busy buying five hundred dollar sneakers instead of paying for Hooked on Phonics and never one criticism about the fact that this country in every state makes a decision that it will spend ten times the amount putting someone in prison than it will on educating a child in public school.

ioAnd then we buy into the No Child Left Behind notion that we are going to fix the schools by kicking kids out of them and taking them somewhere to some other place which we don’t really have. There must be something wrong with black people if the majority of people in America who die from prostate cancer, black men die of prostate cancer double the rate of white men, as a matter of fact black men in America have the highest percentage of prostate cancer in the world. Obviously something wrong. Bad choices about food, obviously eating too many chitlins or something like this because that must be the reason that you have prostate cancer in these numbers and black women have cervical cancer at double the rate and die of it at double the rate of white women; breast cancer, same thing. Must be something wrong with black people that we can’t seem to find a way to own our own homes. Nothing wrong with America. There’s opportunities; it’s the land of opportunity. If you believe in yourself, believe in God, you will have everything you want so it’s obvious that a majority of black people are not believing in themselves and not believing in God or whatever it is that they are not believing in because we have the lowest home ownership numbers in America. And of course the highest foreclosure rates and then we have family wealth, like sixteen cents of every dollar compared to white wealth. And finally, less than one percent of all business revenues in America come from black business, which also tells us that we’re not industrious, not smart, not able to create a business, and so forth. Now either we believe that there must be something wrong with black people because everything else is okay. The playing field is even or as Clinton said, “There’s no more racism”. So what’s the problem? You’re not trying hard enough your criminal, black on black crime, unwed teen mother, breakdown black family; there is something wrong with black people in America and it certainly must be genetic.

Now in order to talk about what Martin would say about that, we might want to talk about what Martin did say about it. About the conditions of black people that were so similar in 1967 and 1968 and we do know that he was planning a Poor People’s March. And what was he planning to do? He was planning to go to Washington, D.C. and said come one come all: black, white, poor white, native American, gays, straight, Mexican, women, men, whoever, we’ll let them come because we are going to cash our check. We are going to get reparations. We are going to get a guaranteed income. And we’re going to talk about the redistribution of the wealth of this nation because you cannot have a nation in which this many people live at the bottom of society after having built up this society at this level and be talking about that we’re free. And how can we keep talking about sending young men to fight for freedom in other countries to kill people in the name of freedom in other countries; to use violence to resolve conflict and then come here and do nothing about the status of a large percentage of people in America. And so he says where do we go from here with all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact that Negroes still live in the bottom of the great society. Still impoverished aliens in an affluent society. And then going on to recall the slavery and the contributions that blacks have made, he says in order to answer the question where do we go from here, we must first honestly recognize where we are. And so when we talk about where do we go from here, let’s figure out where we are. The Black Panther Party comes into being SNIC – a number of other organizations that were not distinct as being black power groups versus militant versus non-violent; all of that. We were all in the freedom movement. It was about freedom and liberation so when we talk about what Martin Luther King, Jr. say today, we have to analyze where we are today and we have to know that he would still be calling for freedom. He did talk about reparations and a guaranteed income and a redistribution of wealth and he made a commitment to that kind of change, he threw down his life and he absolutely did get killed because he gave his life to the people. And so we have to then make some sort of a commitment in the name of Martin Luther King, to give back to this question of freedom, to put freedom back on our agenda so that we can guarantee that all people will have everything that they need so they can not only have the opportunity, but in fact, have life, liberty, and happiness.

Maintained by Brittany Brown
Last Modified:
Copyright 2003 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia