Caribbean Currents: The Caribbean influenced MLK and he influenced it

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An editorial from the Philadelphia Tribune.

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is a defining time not only for African Americans who were born in this country but for immigrants of color as well.

When King was alive, racial inequality was evident and openly practiced in most states in this country. Today, racial inequality is hidden and covertly practiced, swept under the rug by most Caucasians. King would not just be appalled but he would be proverbially “rolling over in his grave” in disappointment.

People from countries across the globe spend many years of their lives aspiring to live the American Dream and aspiring to reach the land with Lady Liberty and her beckoning torch. A little known fact is that King had a great impact on the people of the Caribbean as did the people of the Caribbean have an impact on him.

Most articles and papers that covered his visit to the region, chronicled his visits to be in or around the early 1960s. He visited Puerto Rico in 1962. Here he met Roberto Clemente, who would become one of Puerto Rico’s heroes. He visited the Bahamas in 1965 and returned in 1968. Bahamians proudly point out that King wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while visiting their country in 1965 and on a return trip in 1968 he wrote his “Sanitation Workers Speech.” He visited Jamaica several times in 1965 and the years that followed.

What could have been the magnet that drew him back to the Jamaican shores? Could it have been the magnet of intolerance for inhumane treatment? Did he feel that by observing their interactions, he could find a solution to the heartless treatment from the oppressors back in the States who still classified Black people as sub human, two thirds of a person?

The magnet or pull, if you will, that attracted King to the Caribbean region, specifically Jamaica is that it was a majority Black country that was free. Excerpts from an article originally written in the Jamaican Gleaner, said that King was invited by the University of the West Indies in Mona to be the keynote speaker during a commencement ceremony. His reputation preceded him and the Jamaican government wanted the famous civil rights leader to also come and address the public at the National Stadium. He accepted the invitation because he regarded it as a prime opportunity to see, first-hand, a majority Black country enjoying its newly found freedom, the same freedom that he craved for Blacks in America.

When King visited Jamaica it was his confirmation that it was possible that all of God’s children could actually live together peacefully. An article in the Jamaican Observer written in 2014, stated that King was more inspired when he met Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Canadians, Englishmen and Negroes who said that they were all Jamaicans. This was what he dreamed that America could become and possibly what inspired his “I Have a Dream Speech.”

He loved it!! So much so that “he returned in 1967 with his wife Coretta and rented a house where he completed the manuscript which became his most important book: Where Do We Go From Here.”

The newspapers reported that the visit had a “profound impact upon Dr King. He was quoted as stating that: “The other day Mrs. King and I spent about ten days down in Jamaica … I always love to go to that great island which I consider the most beautiful island in all the world. The government prevailed upon us to be their guests and spend some time and try to get a little rest while there on the speaking tour. And so for those days we travelled all over Jamaica. And over and over again I was impressed by one thing. Here you have people from many national backgrounds: Chinese, Indians, so-called Negroes, and you can just go down the line, Europeans, and people from many, many nations. Do you know they all live there and they have a motto in Jamaica, “Out of many people, one people.” And they say, “Here in Jamaica we are not Chinese, we are not Japanese, we are not Indians, we are not Negroes, we are not Englishmen, we are not Canadians. But we are all one big family of Jamaicans.” One day, here in America, I hope that we will see this and we will become one big family of Americans.”

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated. Coretta Scott King, his wife, returned to Jamaica that same year to accept the first Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights presented at the National Stadium by Prime Minister Shearer.

Many are called but few are chosen. King was called and chosen.

As the aggression towards immigrants and people of color increases, remember what King said.

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