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BAM’s 36th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Tribute

“Give Us the Ballot” Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

Not only is The Brooklyn Academy of Music not canceling its annual Dr. King birthday tribute, but it’s also expanded the free programming this year. Events will take place on Monday, January 17 at 10:30 am in the Opera House, the BAM Harvey Theater, BAM Cinema and address BAM CAfe. Nona Hendryx will perform with Craig Harris & Tailgaters Tale and Reggie Wilson’s dance company Fist and Heel will perform his latest piece, POWER, Dr. Imani Perry delivers the keynote, there will be a screening of the documentary Attica by Stanley Nelson. A Black photographers’ exhibition inspired by the late genius, bell hooks and BAMkids will offer special activities. All visitors must present proof of vaccination and ID to attend.


Contact Assembly Member Stefani L. Zinerman

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The following is an excerpt from the May 17, 1957 speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.in Washington D.C. on the topic of Brown v. Board of Education and Voting Rights.
Although made 65 years ago, it is sadly even more relevant today. For those who have heard King speak over the years, you have the added enjoyment of hearing his voice in these words.

By Martin Luther King Jr.

[From The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University]
Mr. Chairman, distinguished platform associates, fellow Americans. Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent, and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of goodwill, this May seventeenth decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of human captivity. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of disinherited people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom.


Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as “interposition” and “nullification.”

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But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.

Audience: Yes!

Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South (All right) and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

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Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yeah) into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot (Give us the ballot), and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill (All right now) and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a “Southern Manifesto” because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. 5(Tell ’em about it) 

Give us the ballot (Yeah), and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy (Yeah), and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954. (That’s right)

In this juncture of our nation’s history, there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold.
First, there is need for strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government. So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern. In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.

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This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. (Oh yes) The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds. [laughter]

In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and members of Congress to provide a strong, moral, and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded. We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation (Yeah) in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.

A second area in which there is need for strong leadership is from the white northern liberals. There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi-liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides, that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. (All right) We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say: “Slow up for a while; you’re pushing too fast.”

A third source that we must look to for strong leadership is from the moderates of the white South. It is unfortunate that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the close-minded reactionaries. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind. It is my firm belief that this close-minded, reactionary, recalcitrant group constitutes a numerical minority. There are in the white South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface. These persons are silent today because of fear of social, political and economic reprisals. God grant that the white moderates of the South will rise up courageously, without fear, and take up the leadership in this tense period of transition.

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I cannot close without stressing the urgent need for strong, courageous and intelligent leadership from the Negro community. We need a leadership that is 1957 calm and yet positive. This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. (All right) We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. (All right, That’s right) We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about—there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the old, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order. (Yeah, That’s all right)
We must meet hate with love. (Yeah) We must meet physical force with soul force. There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: “Love your enemies (Yeah), bless them that curse you (Yes), pray for them that despitefully use you.”6 (That’s right, All right) Then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.”7 (Yeah, Lord) And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations (Yeah) that failed to follow this command. (All right) We must follow nonviolence and love. (Yes, Lord) 

Now, I’m not talking about a sentimental, shallow kind of love. (Go ahead) I’m not talking about eros, which is a sort of aesthetic, romantic love. I’m not even talking about philia, which is a sort of intimate affection between personal friends. But I’m talking about agape. (Yes sir) I’m talking about the love of God in the hearts of men. (Yes) I’m talking about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. (Go ahead) We’ve got to love. (Oh yes)

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