Martin Luther King Day in Detroit

January 31, 2018

From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—A diverse crowd at Detroit’s Martin Luther King Day rally and march was even larger than last year’s turnout, proving that we refuse to acquiesce to the blatant anti-humanism of the 45th president.


Powerful remarks by Kimberly Simmons of the Juvenile Lifers’ Support Group told us that Michigan has delayed the mandatory re-evaluation of lifers who were juveniles when sentenced. Over 300 remain behind bars.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Vanessa Fluker, “The People’s Lawyer,” urged participants to confront the rise in lead poisoning in Detroit attributed to shortcuts in the demolition of old houses with lead paint and to the deterioration of quality housing in Detroit. Both the mortgage crisis of 2007-2008 and the massive numbers of foreclosures due to illegal and unconscionably high residential property taxes in Detroit have allowed slumlord speculators to buy houses cheaply and rent them out without making needed repairs. Improper demolition and unrepaired houses release lead paint into the environment.

Fluker declared that it is up to us as activists to understand the interrelations and effects on the quality of Detroiters’ lives. “A child under six (the age group most vulnerable to lead poisoning) should not have to worry about lead, or quality of life…this is tantamount to genocide.” She urged everyone to take action, because there are so many fronts where action is needed. “We have the capacity to do this for our next generation of activists,” she declared.

Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a Freedom Rider, founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Chicago Campaign, re-enacted the Civil Rights Movement when he sang the songs the masses of jailed Freedom Riders created when their jailers took away their mattresses and toothbrushes. All who heard him felt the power of a mass movement.

However, Lafayette’s talk did not give much direction for today’s struggles. The organizing coalition, led by the Workers World Party, encouraged participants to rally again on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. But that party flies in the face of King’s legacy by constantly trying to mislead the movement, supporting murderous dictators like Assad in Syria and Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Understanding King’s legacy is still important for all of today’s freedom struggles.

—Susan Van Gelder

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