March on Washington Celebration Webinar
Stephen Previtt: Good evening to all of you and welcome to the University of San Francisco. I am particularly pleased to have Mayor Lee with us and to see so many people from the community out from the community, off campus here on campus. Historically, USF is the city’s first university. We would like to be the city’s first partner in serving the community and improving the quality of life for all of its citizens. We are all here tonight to commemorate an event that took place five decades ago, one whose significance has not faded over time.
SP: Fifty years ago, Dr. King observed, and I quote: “We are not satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness a mighty stream.” We share his dissatisfaction, which is rooted in the realization that justice has yet to come for many of our brothers and sisters, and grounded in the understanding, again, I quote Dr. King: “that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and that their freedom is inextricably linked to our freedom.”
Much work remains for us. We look back tonight so that we might further advance the cause of justice tomorrow. I’m grateful to our own Dr. Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi for all of the time, energy and effort that she put into this event, and I’m very proud to share with you USF’s national treasure, Professor Clarence Jones. He’s a close friend, colleague of Dr. King who will be speaking with you this evening. So thank you all for coming. You are warmly welcomed, and we take up the cause together. Thank you.
Edwin Lee: It’s my honor to be here tonight. Good evening, Mayor Brown. Good evening, Father Previtt and all of the administration here, and it’s really exciting to be here to be part of tonight’s celebration that recognizes the historic 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Certainly a very critical movement towards equality and growing struggle of civil rights in America.
EL: Just a few minutes ago, I had the pleasure of again meeting my good friend, Dr. Clarence Jones, and reliving those years, 50 years ago. We still marvel what we were doing 50 years ago ourselves, and trying to give, and I know he’ll be up here in a minute explaining, perhaps some key moments that we should all try to understand because, as Dean Trezvina said, and other speakers and Joe said earlier as well, the struggle continues. It is with us. But we look back. Who could have imagined 50 years ago that we would have had today, the first African American president of the United States?
EL: Who could have 50 years ago have imagined we would have the first African American mayor of San Francisco in Mayor Brown? Who could have imagined?
EL: Who could have imagined we would have the first Chinese-American mayor in San Francisco? [Laughs.]
EL: These events of course, do not just happen by themselves. It takes great sacrifice. Ultimately, it takes American heroes to allow those situations to exist. And it also highlights the great leaders right here in San Francisco, who continue to improve the quality of life for all of our residents, celebrating diversity and equality for all and shape our nation’s history.
Clarence Jones: [Singing.] “Oh, freedom. Oh, freedom. Oh, freedom over me, and before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord, and be free.”
CJ: One of the signature hymns of our movement. You know, fable has it that if the surviving lions don’t tell their story, the hunters will get all the credit. I was 32 years old in 19 – on August 28, 1963, so part of what I want to do here this evening and part of what I do everywhere I go is to tell the story as a surviving lion, about one of the most extraordinary lions that ever lived in our pride: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
CJ: You know, St. Augustine reminds us that Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. Notwithstanding the innovative progress in diagnostic medicine and treatment of illnesses, advances in the technology of communications, in terrestrial travel and in outer space, and in the production of food and shelter, the existential challenge of the 21st Century is whether or not we will commit ourselves to current and future policies of governance that encourage and foster violence or non-violence as a rational choice for the resolving of disputes between nations and peoples.
CJ: In a speech in 1967, capturing America’s chief moral dilemma, Dr. King said, and I quote: “We suffer from a kind of poverty of spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. We have learned to swim the seas like fish, fly in the air like birds, yet we have not learned the simple art of walking the Earth like brothers.”
CJ: The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s commitment to nonviolence remains unequivocal and unambiguous. This legacy is predicated on his belief that our abilities to survive internationally and domestically is limited only to two choices: non-violence or non-existence. Non-violence or co-annihilation.
CJ: As we gather here today, only a few days before the 50th anniversary of his call to us to dream to be the best that we can be, when will we rise up in one loud, collective voice and say once and for all that the choice of violence is not an option to resolve the inevitable disputes and conflicts that will occur among us in society?
CJ: The defining issue today is not those rights and protections guaranteed under the Second Amendment to our Constitution. No, it’s not the Second Amendment, but it’s the moral injunction of the Sixth of the Biblical commandments, “Thou shall not kill.”
CJ: In December 1964, when he was being presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, Gunner Jahn, then Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, said in speaking about Dr. King, I quote, he said: “Luther King’s name will endure for the way in which he has waged his struggle, personifying in his conduct, the words that were spoken to mankind, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
CJ: Describing Dr. King, he went on to say, “In Ghandi’s teaching, he found an answer to a question that had long troubled him. How does one set about carrying out a social reform?”
CJ: He tells us that in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Ghandi, that the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom is non-violence. He goes on further. He’s describing what Dr. King said. Quote: “If we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In our days of space vehicles and guided missiles, the choice is either, as I said, non-violence or non-existence.” Quoting Dr. King.
CJ: In describing Dr. Gunnar Jahn – in describing Dr. King, Dr. Gunner Jahn continued, just as he’s about to present the Nobel Peace Prize to him, and he says, “He is the first person in the Western World to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle. And he has brought this message to all men, and to all nations and races.”
CJ: It is sometimes said that the classic example of insanity is repetitive application of the same social and political policies to the same problems in the expectation of achieving a different result. Our nation is awash in guns. Firearms are the leading cause of death in the United States. There are more guns in America than there are people. This is the background canvas against which the disease of violence continues to spread largely unabated through many communities in our nation today. In too many instances, violence lies like molten lava beneath the surface of our society, just waiting to erupt. We can choose to be bystanders, cover our eyes and ears, or become proactive to meet the challenge that Dr. King’s legacy’s commitment to non-violence presents to us.
CJ: The speaker who spoke immediately before Dr. King at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial nearly 50 years ago was Rabbi Joachim Prinz, of the American Jewish Congress, one of the participating sponsor organizations of the March on Washington. Part of what Rabbi Prinz said then is just as relevant and timely today. He said, and I quote: “When I was a Rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” Close quote.
CJ: During the end of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, debate has continued about the efficacy of non-violence versus violence to bring about fundamental social and political changes. In 2010 and 2011, two scholars – Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, did an analysis of the success and failure of non-violent movements versus those initiated and based on violence. In their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict, they examined and studied 323 major non-violent and violent cases from 1900 to 2006. Instances seeking regime change, expulsion of foreign occupiers or successors, they found that non-violent resistance has been strategically superior to violent resistance during the 20th and 21st centuries in more than 50% of the time, and sometimes as much as 60% of the time. They asked the question, quote: “What explains the success of non-violent resistance campaigns relative to violent campaigns?” The answer they found was, quote: “that a critical source of the success of non-violent resistance was mass participation, which can erode or remove regimes’ main sources of power when the participants represent diverse sectors of society.”
CJ: So why is Dr. Jones talking to us today on the 50th anniversary commemoration? Why is he even talking about violence? I’m talking because I hear the words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz. I am not interested in the technological advances of Facebook, or the technological advances of Twitter and Google. I am interested in the real-time of what is happening in America 50 years after the Dream.
CJ: You want to celebrate the legacy of this great man? You want to celebrate the legacy of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary? You make a commitment and you say to yourself and you say to everybody that you can reach, you make yourself a nuisance because we have to stop the violence. Stop the violence.
CJ: Stop the violence. Stop the violence.
CJ: It is not an accident, I believe, that this event is taking place at this institution, a Jesuit institution. There is a line that goes, a moral line that goes, from Dr. King, in 1963 and even from his assassination on April 4, 1968, that goes outside the country. It goes down to a place called El Salvador. In El Salvador, there was an extraordinary man, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Fr. Oscar Romero. He was a source of strength and hope for the poor and for the oppressed in his country. He worked with and for them, taking their struggles as his own. Romero wrote and spoke passionately and publicly of the need for Christians to work for justice. He frequently was faced with threat and danger from those who opposed his ideas. On March 24, 1980 while celebrating the Eucharist, Archbishop was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for the commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently. Because of his courageous stand for justice, he became a martyr not only for poor Salvadorans, but also for all struggling to overcome oppression and poverty.
CJ: Do you know why I like being here, at the University of San Francisco? Because I’ve traveled all around the country and I’ve seen lots of universities. I’ve looked at the entrances of different universities and their monuments, but it’s the University of San Francisco that has a monument to Jesuits who were slain. Monuments to Jesuits who were slain in El Salvador. Those monuments up at Lone Mountain? That’s a reflection of the soul of the University of San Francisco.
CJ: That is a connection between the moral compass of Dr. King in 1963 when he spoke to the nation. Do you know what the I Have A Dream speech – very simply it was a summons to the conscience of America to be the best that we can be. So when we – when you celebrate 50 years later, as an institution, you are reconnecting… reconnecting the moral line that goes from his extraordinary leadership of this country, the sacrifice of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and what you seek to do today.
CJ: I never thought at the time that I would ever live to see 50 years. I never thought that I would live to be 82 or 83.
CJ: Dr. King used to say that longevity has its place, but what’s the use of having a long life if you have an empty head and you don’t have a heart? So as I said earlier, when I opened my remarks, fable has it that if the surviving lions don’t tell their story, the hunters will get all the credit. So, as a surviving lion, I am pleased and so touched that you would honor this extraordinary man, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that I have to stop speaking this way because I might appear strong – and I am – but sometimes my heart fills with tears, pain and joy. When he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the first thing that came into my mind – the first 10 seconds, when I heard about it – was that they finally got him.
CJ: So, Father Previtt, Provost Turpin, my dear Provost Wardell-Ghirarduzzi – I may be pronouncing your name incorrectly – Mayor Lee, I accept this award. I am very pleased and honored that you would take the time to pause for a moment and commemorate the 50th anniversary, and I’m very pleased to hear that on the 28th, he spoke sometime between two and four o’clock in the afternoon. I guess those of you who may not know that I was standing some 50 feet behind him when he was speaking. And the speech that he gave that is so celebrated, the I Have a Dream speech, that’s not the speech he intended to give. It’s only when I was standing behind him and listening very carefully did I see that after he had spoken the first seven paragraphs, which I wrote as suggested text – I never knew that in fact he was going to use it – until I heard it, and then he went on to add his own material that his favorite gospel singer sitting on the podium shouted to him, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin. Tell ‘em about the dream.” Mahalia Jackson. And from there –
CJ: And as I write – And as I write in my book, this is all happening in real time, and as I write in my book, I see him take – he’s holding – he’s at the lectern – I see him take the prepared, written text and move it to the left side of the lectern, and while he was standing like this before Mahalia Jackson interrupted, and his whole body language – now I’m standing behind him and I say to the person whosever standing next to me, I said, “These people don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”
CJ: ‘Cause I saw his body language change. So the challenge, as I said, you can summarize his legacy very simply. He was committed to love and non-violence. Love and non-violence, and we cannot abide for one minute the existential, ubiquitous gun violence that is occurring in this nation. We have to stop it. Stop the violence. Stop the violence. Thank you so much.