By Joe Pitts
Mayor of Clarksville
Around Monday’s national holiday celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., we pause to reflect on the life and legacy of the civil rights leader. He had a special insight and clarity, and many of the words he spoke more than six decades ago still inspire us today.
Many are familiar with King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but I’d like to talk about a lesser-known speech that strikes me as highly relevant in January 2021.
In 1967, King delivered a speech at Stanford University on "The Other America." It is a speech he gave more than once. One version was given at Grosse Point High School, in Grosse Point, Mich, less than a month before his assassination.
In the speech, King describes the two Americas that exist alongside one another. The first is "the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity."
The second America, he explains, is the place where the nation's citizens live in poverty. He mentions the several races occupying this America, including poor white people, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Native Americans before characterizing the Black American experience: "The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery."
Here is a key excerpt:
“Many things (the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965) were gained as a result of years of struggle.
“But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It's more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.”
For my part, the spirit of this particular message from Dr. King inspires our efforts at the City of Clarksville to enhance our leadership diversity and to build a more diverse workforce. It also calls forward the moral imperative for us to ensure Clarksville’s prosperity extends to all parts of our City, both socially and geographically.
This means working hard every day to ensure each Clarksville citizen has an equal opportunity to succeed, and that the good jobs provided by the City are shared appropriately among all Clarksvillians. This also means working to ensure that the strength and resources of the City of Clarksville are used fairly to provide for all our citizens the best possible City in which to work and start a business and to live and raise our families.
I invite you to join me in remembering the life and message of Dr. King on Monday, and every day of the year. And I implore you to join me, with commitment and purpose, as we continue to work side-by-side to fulfill the American dream of genuine equality and justice for all.
Graphic by Henry Kilpatrick/Communications Specialist
Mayor Joe Pitts in 2019 joined the Clarksville Branch NAACP for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. The march has been suspended this year because of pandemic precautions.