Says â€˜Safe Passageâ€ program ‘is a joke’
By Chinta Strausberg
Decades ago, the â€œLittle Rock Nineâ€ students tried to enroll in a high school but it took President Eisenhower to call in the federal troops to protect them against racists trying to prevent their admission but today 56-years later Father Michael L. Pfleger says we have Chicagoâ€™s â€œSafe Passageâ€ program designed to protect children who are now forced to travel through rival gangs territories.
In honor of today’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, Father Pfleger called for zero tolerance for shooting he said would be the greatest gift a person could give Dr. King.
Pfleger told the story of Black opera super opera singer, Marian Anderson, Â and how in 1939 she was banned from singing at Constitutional Hall solely because she was African American.â€œWhen she was banned, there was an outraged all across America,â€ said Pfleger.
He told of then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who invited Anderson to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial where she sang â€œMy Country Libertyâ€ on Easter morning. Pfleger said 24-years later the late Dorothy Heights said, â€œI must repent from my statementâ€ because on August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 met at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic â€œI Have a Dreamâ€speech.
But, Pfleger made it clear that it was not Dr. King who orchestrated the march on Washington but rather A. Phillip Randolph who had been organizing such an event for 12 years with the porters of the Pullman railroad which employed the largest number of blacks at that time.
Randolph was organizing a march in 1941 to protest racial discrimination in the military; however, President Roosevelt issued an executive order, the Fair Employment Act, which caused Randolph to call off the march.
Pfleger said in 1962 Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin encouraged Randolph to revise his plans for a march.Â At the same time, Dr. King went to President Kennedy asking him to write a new Emancipation Proclamation on this 100th anniversary. Â Pfleger said Kennedy refused. King vowed to organize the march.
Fiftty years later, Pfleger said there is a â€œdanger that has come about in our country to try to sabotage and water down the radical message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jrâ€¦.to sabotage his message and not deal with the oneness and critique ofthe American systemâ€¦.â€
Father Pfleger said people try to â€œmake them acceptable to the masses. Dr. King was not assassinated because of a dreamâ€ but rather â€œhe dared to challenge the systemâ€¦the same way that Edgar Medgars and Malcolm X were,â€ he bellowed.
â€œWhen they canâ€™t discredit you enough, they will kill you,â€ Pfleger said.
Where do we go from hereâ€? asked Pfleger who said he was asked why didnâ€™t he go to Washington. Pfleger had a problem with the people who were not invited to speak at the March on Washington like Harry Belafonte, who paid for Dr. King’s funeral, or with Dr. Joseph Loweryâ€¦â€those who were there 50-years ago and fighting and had hoses and dogs biting them and who locked up in jail. I have a problem when they are not invited to speak today.
â€œ I donâ€™t care about the President. I donâ€™t care about the congressman or senators. I want to know where are the people who shed bloodâ€ and why they were no tinvited to speak.
Pfleger warned the congregation â€œnot to relegate that speech in the last segment of the Â “I Have a Dream.â€ He said Kingâ€™s dream speech was neither â€œwarm nor fuzzyâ€ and that King’s speech was â€œbrutally honest about racism, violenceâ€¦that existed in America in 1963 and exist in America in 2013, 50-years later,â€ he said.
Pfleger was irate when he learned that Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., was put on at 9 a.m. when nobody was not yet there. Jackson was on the balcony on April 4, 1968 when King was shot. Â Pfleger said he was outraged that Jackson was relegated to two-minutes and at the 9 a.mâ€¦.. hour.
To honor Dr. King, Pfleger said, you ought to be like King. He said the Voting Rights Act â€œis being gutted right before our eyes. We have to demand the church, the young people must demand congress write a new voter rights act that protectsâ€ and ensures everyone the right to vote â€œwithout loopholesâ€¦. Everybody deserves the right to voteâ€¦. We will not go back,â€ he said referring to the Jim Crow days when blacks had to guess how many bubbles in a bottle.
There are many fights Pfleger said that must be fought like fighting for a higher minimum wageâ€¦, fight for an equal education he says today â€œdepends on race, class and zip code. We must break the chains of mass incarceration, end sentencing disparity wgucg still depends on how wealthy you are to get a good lawyer because whether youâ€™re free. Itâ€™s not whether youâ€™re innocent. Itâ€™s how good a lawyer you got in a courtroom. We know that from George Zimmerman,â€ he said referring to the man who killed 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin. â€œItâ€™s who you got in the courtroom.â€
â€œWe live in a country where incarceration is still the preferred choiceâ€¦still the preferred choice over good education, prevention and opportunity. Brothers donâ€™t want to go to jail. Give them an opportunity to do something else than go out into the streets,â€ Pfleger said.
â€œWe must break the chains of racism, materialism, classism and militarism that still have a choke hold on America. TrayvonÂ Martin isnâ€™t some random incident that happened in Florida. Trayvon Martin happens all over America every day in the cities, in the streetsâ€ ofÂ America,â€ he said asking all those who have a black male son to raise their hands. He then asked them if they worry about that son being killed. That, he said, is the reality of the signs of the times.
Referring to what is happening in Egypt and the misnomer of calling it a coup, Pfleger said, â€œWhen the military takes the president out of his home (who has been) democratically elected whether you like him or not and locks him up in a room and then takes control of a country, thatâ€™s a military coup. You can say whatever you want, but letâ€™s just deal with the truth.â€
Pfleger explained why â€œwe wonâ€™t call it a military coup, then we come down to Egypt we withdraw millions that weâ€™re giving them and they shut off use of the Suez Canal where the oil comes through. Itâ€™s not that we give a damn about Egypt. We care about oil. Thatâ€™s what America cares about is oilâ€¦.â€ â€œLetâ€™s care about people,â€ he bellowed.
Pfleger said we send millions of dollar to Egypt and to Israel. He said America â€œis not broke. We just donâ€™t spend our money right. America is just like most of us. We ainâ€™t broke. We just donâ€™t manage our money wellâ€¦.â€
â€œWe have to push forward to challenge the challenge Dr. King gave us for equality. Dr. King fought and won integration of schools, of buses and bus stations. Dr.King won the integrationâ€ of public accommodation, but Pfleger argued â€œwhat does it mean if you can now go to a hotel but you donâ€™t have a job to stay there? What does it mean if you can sit at any lunch counter but you donâ€™t have any money to pay for the lunch?
â€œYes, we integrated bus counters, lunch counters, drinking fountains and schools, but now we must integrate corporate board rooms,â€ said Pfleger. â€œWe must now integrate the Fortune 500 companies. We must now integrate Wall Street. We must now integrate La Salle St. We must now integrate the CEO and the president’s office of every corporate company in America. If you donâ€™t have black people on your board, you should not exist,â€ he bellowed.
â€œWe must integrate resources. We must integrate respect and value of life not just in the womb but in our children on the streetsâ€¦..â€ â€œWe must break the chains that destroyed our value systemsâ€¦.â€ â€œWhen did we give up the structure, responsibility and accountability in our homes? When did we allow poverty, racism and prejudice to destroy parentingâ€? Pfleger said the reason why he is not in jail today is because of his mother he feared more than any police officer on the street. â€œWe must break the chains of parenting.â€
Pfleger spoke about the children who were shot in Chicago including an 11-year-old girl who was on her porch. He asked, â€œWhy was an 11-year-old on the porch at 4 a.m.â€? â€œIâ€™m sad but why Â are babies out by themselves on the street? We must break the chains of a society that is trying to lower the standards in compromising.
â€œDr. King taught us that hate and injustice and racism can never steal our dignity and our self-respectâ€¦.â€Â He spoke about the NRA and how it is pushing a gun in the hand of every American but Pfleger said, â€œThere is nothing in your hand is more powerful than what we have in our spirit.
â€œI believe Dr. King would weepâ€ at a nation that has fallen in love with guns. â€œI believe that Dr. King would weep at a nation with guns that have become a part of our wardrobe. I believe that Dr. King would weep at a time when we got to put signs on our doors â€˜No guns allowed here.â€™ There was a day when we would not think of walking into a temple, church of synagogue but todayâ€¦.â€
Pfleger said Dr. King would weep at the three students shot a person because they wanted to know how it felt to shoot somebody or shootings in a church.
The violence, he said is replacing the KKK in this country. Pfleger said, â€œwhat kind of a sick society we have becomeâ€ that we have to hire people to protect our children. He spoke of the Little Rock 9 who tried to integrate a school and the governor of Arkansas blocked their entry and President Eisenhower had to call in the federal troops to protect the students.
â€œAnd now in 2013, we have to hire people to protect our children. What kind of society we live in today when we put up Safe Passage signs that continue to give a stigma and stereotype to a child and a neighborhoodâ€¦.â€? â€œA sign does not make you safe. The sign is a joke. The hiring of Safe Passage workers should be ashamed….that we have hire someone to keep them safe.â€
Pfleger said it pains him when children are asked what do they want to be and they respond, â€œto live.â€ Fifty-years later, Father Pfleger said, â€œWe have to resuscitate the call for non-violenceâ€¦to take the gospel of love off the life supportâ€¦.â€
Referring to the people of faith, Pfleger said, â€œWe must reclaim our identity. I believe religious leadersâ€¦all across the nation should take the phlegm of the world out of your throats so that you can reclaim the prophetic voiceâ€¦.â€
â€œThere will be a rude awakening if this nation returns to business as usual. â€Referring to the summer and black discontent, Pfleger said, â€œThere will be neither rest nor tranquilityâ€¦. â€œ
Pfleger also told the church that it was gospel great Mahalia Jackson who told Dr. King to tell everyone about his dream. It was at that point that King shied away from his prepared notes and gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
King, Pfleger said, â€œtried to wake up the conscious of a nationâ€¦. â€œDr. King did more than deliver a speech. Dr. King delivered a challenge to America and to the world.â€ He pointed out the bad checkâ€ marked Insufficient Funds as an example. â€œThe bank of justice was not bankrupt.â€ Pfleger said it just didnâ€™t want to pay you.
Pfleger said King was right when he said since 100 years of the Emancipation Proclamation â€œthe Negro was still not free in America. â€œ Quoting King, Pfleger added, â€œWe must go back home and fightâ€ and said â€œfreedom will not come without suffering.â€
So, on this day the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary ofÂ Dr. Kingâ€™s march on Washington. Father Pfleger issued a challenge to his congregation. â€œDonâ€™t be satisfied with better. Donâ€™t be satisfied until itâ€™s the best it ought to be. Fifty-years later donâ€™t be satisfied until every single child can get the education he or she deserves.â€
Asking the Saint Sabina peacemakers, who were once gang members, to stand, Pfleger bellowed, â€œUntil we stop calling guys on the street gangbangers and start recognizing this is the future leadership of America…. This is the power of the streets to turn the streets around. Stop demonizing our children.
â€œDonâ€™t be satisfied until every person can have a job and feel proud about themselves. Donâ€™t be satisfied until every person has health care and doesnâ€™t have to wonder about the kind of health care they get. Donâ€™t be satisfied until no one sleeps under the viaductsâ€¦or some kid is on a couch because he or she has noplace else to go.
â€œUntil we respect every race, gender, culture and creed, donâ€™t be satisfied. Donâ€™t be satisfied until the weapons of war are no more whether itâ€™s across the ocean oracross our streets. Donâ€™t be satisfied until no person is shot not in Palestine, not in Columbia, not in Mexico, not in Lawndale, not in Garfield, not in Auburn Gresham or Pilsen. We will not be satisfied until no child is shot and donâ€™t be satisfied until racism and sexism exist no more in America,â€ he bellowed.
â€œDonâ€™t be satisfied until there is nobody hungry, until there is no one wondering where they will lay their head at night. Donâ€™t be satisfied until our children can play again in the parks and on their blocks without fear and the sounds of our night â€¦are childrenâ€™s laughterâ€¦..
â€œDonâ€™t be satisfied until justice and righteousness roll down like a mighty stream because when that happens, we will not have to go to sleep and dream any more about the beloved community because we can wake and live it every single day.The freedom bell still waits to ring but it wonâ€™t ring until the hammer of justice hits it high and justiceâ€ prevails for justice for all.
Referring to today’s 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington, Pfleger said ministers should honor those people who attended the original march. He called for a zero tolerance on shooting in honor of today’s remembrance of King’s involvement in that march.
And to show his gratitude, Father Pfleger bestowed the “Medallions of Honor” to four members of his church who attended the 1963 March on Washington. They were Ed Collins, Richard Walker, Mrytis Minor and Lavergne Mormon with Mrs. Minor telling her story about her life in Mississippi.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.