Rev. Jackson's account of Dr. King's last birthday

January 17, 2011 5:23:37 AM PST
"I was privileged to be with Dr. King January 15, 1968."

"As commemorations and events take place around the nation, I think it is worth remembering how he spent his last birthday. It is instructive for today. We've come full circle.

"On that day he decried that our nation was moving dangerously fast toward spiritual bankruptcy--financing an unwieldy military budget for the war in Vietnam; giving privilege to the wealthiest Americans while cutting back on programs for social uplift.

"He was particularly concerned that resources for the War on Poverty and the Great Society were being diverted to the war in Vietnam. The Great Society was being diminished.

"Dr. King lived till he was just 39. He has been dead now longer than he lived.

"As I reflect on his last birthday, I remember he had breakfast with his family around

"8:00 a.m. and came to the basement of his church around 10:00 a.m. in his blue jeans and windbreaker jacket. He had convened blacks from the Deep South; whites from Appalachia; Native Americans; Al Lowenstein and Jewish allies; Latinos from the Southwest and California; and peace activists.

"He led an organizing session for his last campaign--the Poor People's Campaign, demanding a job and health care for every American. He felt strongly about building this multi-cultural, multi-racial coalition; no one side of town would diminish another. People would come by train and plane, bus and walk to engage, if necessary, in civil disobedience to get the attention of Congress. He was determined to put a focus on gripping poverty.

"Around noon, Xernona Clayton, Dr. King's secretary, brought in a birthday cake. She joked, "Dr. King, you've forgotten your own birthday." We all laughed and talked, and then returned to work. Al Lowenstein gave a detailed lecture on plans to end the war in Vietnam. He was later killed by the way.

"Today we've come full circle. There are five terms you rarely hear in Washington: poverty; racial equality; economic justice; reconstruction; and peace budget. Today, 59 million Americans have no health insurance. Insurance premiums continue to rise. 49 million are still in poverty. Unemployment continues and these numbers will rise. 41 million are on food stamps. Over 30 million are unemployed or underemployed. Foreclosures continue to rise, outstripping loan modifications. Student loan debts are now greater than credit card debt, endangering a whole generation of our youth.

"The banks got bailed out; insurance companies like AIG got massive government subsidies. Our military budget goes unchallenged. People are simmering in pain and alienation, without an identifiable plan to rebuild America and put America back to work.

"I would like to speak with you about Dr. King's mission, 42 years later. This weekend should not be reduced to symbolic gestures, reducing Dr. King to a trophy. We would do well not just to admire him, but also to follow him; to provide his mission a place at the table as we debate national priorities and direction."

-- Rev. Jesse Jackson