On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn. On April 4, 1972, the late Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of New York, died of cancer in a Miami, Fl. hospital. His death came four years, four months and four days after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
51 years later, we have a generation that knows neither Dr. King nor Congressman Powell. And what is even more tragic is that this generation is so social media-addicted that they don’t even want to read or hear about anything that is not about them.
We must remember the death of Dr. King beyond the news clips and the images of cities burning and people rioting. Those actions, while not excusable, were expressions of the pain and anger over his death. We must remember Dr. King beyond having a dream. We must remember that he died because of his commitment to our future and life as we now know it.
Dr. King was in Memphis because of the death of two garbage workers who faced discrimination and were denied shelter during an electrical storm. We must remember that he gave away the money he received from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and he moved into public housing with his family in Chicago at one time to demonstrate his commitment to equal housing.
We must also remember the Rev. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, who fought for civil rights before there was a Congressional Black Caucus.
Under his leadership as chair, the House Committee on Education and Labor passed, and the Congress enacted, 60 major pieces of legislation in six years that affected such issues as higher education laws, school lunch programs and the arts and humanities.
Their legislation established or impacted the:
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Fair Labor Standards Act amendments
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now the Every Student Success Act, as an amendment)
- Intergovernmental Personnel Act
- The Economic Opportunity Act (which many remember as Model Cities)
- Americans or Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, known as Public Accommodations.
The Public Accommodations amendment made it a matter of law that there could be no discrimination in the use of anything public where federal dollars are involved. This meant that schools could not segregate students in a building or recreation center and the South could not deny Blacks the use of a public pool because Whites used it.
It was Powell that made President Lyndon B. Johnson’s idea of a “Great Society” a reality. Powell also acknowledged the anniversary of the independence of each African nation in the Congressional Record on the date of their establishment as a nation.
These two men must not only be remembered on this, the occasion of their deaths, but this should also be another opportunity to remember how they lived and the sacrifices they made for the quality of life we enjoy today.
Dr. John E. Warren is the publisher of The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint.