Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An essential bit from Martin Luther King's "The Other America: How the bootless may raise themselves by their bootstraps

Note: The "Great Society" was President Johnson's term for a series of programs to make the US great for all its citizens. It failed for the reason King mentions here.

From The Other America:
A man was on the plane with me some weeks ago and he came up to me and said, "The problem, Dr. King, that I see with what you all are doing is that every time I see you and other Negroes, you're protesting and you aren't doing anything for yourselves." And he went on to tell me that he was very poor at one time, and he was able to make by doing something for himself. "Why don't you teach your people," he said, "to lift themselves by their own bootstraps?" And then he went on to say other groups faced disadvantages, the Irish, the Italian, and he went down the line. 
And I said to him that it does not help the Negro, it only deepens his frustration, upon feeling insensitive people to say to him that other ethnic groups who migrated or were immigrants to this country less than a hundred years or so ago, have gotten beyond him and he came here some 344 years ago. And I went on to remind him that the Negro came to this country involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily. I went on to remind him that no other racial group has been a slave on American soil. I went on to remind him that the other problem we have faced over the years is that this society placed a stigma on the color of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black. Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups. 
And I finally said to him that it's a nice thing to say to people that you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstraps. And the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries of denial and neglect, have been left bootless. They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society. And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs. 
Now one of the answers it seems to me, is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for our families of our country. It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement must now begin to organize for the guaranteed annual income. Begin to organize people all over our country, and mobilize forces so that we can bring to the attention of our nation this need, and this is something which I believe will go a long long way toward dealing with the Negro's economic problem and the economic problem which many other poor people confront in our nation. Now I said I wasn't going to talk about Vietnam, but I can't make a speech without mentioning some of the problems that we face there because I think this war has diverted attention from civil rights. It has strengthened the forces of reaction in our country and has brought to the forefront the military-industrial complex that even President Eisenhower warned us against at one time. And above all, it is destroying human lives. It's destroying the lives of thousands of the young promising men of our nation. It's destroying the lives of little boys and little girls In Vietnam. 
But one of the greatest things that this war is doing to us in Civil Rights is that it is allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam every day. And I submit this afternoon that we can end poverty in the United States. Our nation has the resources to do it. The National Gross Product of America will rise to the astounding figure of some $780 billion this year. We have the resources: The question is, whether our nation has the will, and I submit that if we can spend $35 billion a year to fight an ill-considered war in Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, our nation can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth.