MLK, whiteness, and the legacy of slavery


January 20, 2010 by tristan savage

The other day I went to a Martin Luther King Day candlelight vigil at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, where I listened to Bob Moses, one of the original organizers of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

The civil rights organizations CORE, SNCC, and others selected Mississippi as ground zero in the civil rights movement in 1964, focusing on counties where the registered black voters could be counted on one’s hands and toes, a tiny fraction of the eligible population.  Eventually the “Freedom Summer” in 1964 became the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which organized to challenge the national Democratic Party at their 1964 convention, and force them to choose whether to seat an integrated, liberationist party of delegates or the ‘official’, segregated (white-only) delegation of the state’s Democratic Party.  Bob Moses was the main organizer of the Freedom Summer project.

On Monday night, reflecting what he has learned over the last half-century, Moses gave one of the most beautifully-woven-together narratives of slavery, violence, whiteness, and the innocence of a people born into privilege that I have ever heard.  He tells the story of a runaway slave freed by common law on the high seas, Alabama men sentenced to years of hard labor under a sweetheart deal between the state’s department of justice and US Steel, commodity prices, positive law, and the impossibility of “innocence”.  I highly recommend listening to it here:

Watch: MLK Day Keynote Address: “The Deliberate Denial of Education”

Flip through to minute 36 to get to Bob Moses’ sermon.

2 thoughts on “MLK, whiteness, and the legacy of slavery

  1. The Mike says:

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Kyle says:

    Well put, Tristan. I left the lecture and tried and failed to pass articulate the gravity of Moses’ comments. Moses poetically gave voice to the silent elephant in the room that is white supremacy and the enduring legacy of those who resist it.

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