What has changed in 50 years?
A little more than half a century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made the point that here were two Americas.
The remarks came during a March 14, 1968, speech at Grosse Point Farms, Mich. King said one America was white, and beamed with the “sunlight of opportunity.″ The other America, the black America, was the one where “men walk the streets in search of jobs that don’t exist.”
There were, King explained, times when there were economic depressions in white America. “In Negro America the literal depression” was constant.
On Monday, the Rev. K. Edward Copeland said the country is still just as divided now as when King gave that speech.
“Let’s not fool ourselves,” Copeland said, “there has been no qualitative jump in equality.” He said today’s nation may be a new generation, but “it has the same old enemies.”
Copeland was speaking at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation Interfaith Service, which was held before a packed audience at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Sun River Terrace. It was the last of three days’ worth of events honoring the acclaimed civil rights leader, and came on the federal holiday which recognizes King annually.
The speaker has a deep connection to Kankakee. Copeland is the son of the Rev. William H. Copeland, pastor emeritus of the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kankakee. The younger Copeland grew up in Kankakee and graduated from Kankakee Eastridge High School. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and Rhetoric from the University of Illinois; a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley; and a masters of divinity and doctorate of divinity.
He now lives in Rockford, where he is the pastor of the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
Copeland told the audience that the Grosse Pointe speech, delivered less than a month before King’s tragic assassination, was highly controversial. King was heckled throughout. People forget, the speaker said, that King was “grossly unpopular” with segments of the country near the end of his life.
He recalled King’s quote that the biggest threat to equality was not the klan, but the white moderate who had a “timetable for another’s freedom.”
Copeland said America today must get over its “bipolar” disease of two nations.
There are, he said, “the same old devils” tearing mothers away from children at the border; police brutality; and voter repression.
“There are,” he said, “all types of conniving methods to prevent Negroes from voting.” He said the 2016 election marked the first decrease in black voter turnout in 20 years.
It is a mistake to think that lasting change only comes from attitude. Legislation matters, he added. “It may not change people’s minds, but it does change their habits.”
He added that voting is important — “not just with your ballot, but also with your wallet.”
If African-Americans formed a separate nation, Copeland said, their buying power would create the 14th largest economy in the world. Ask yourselves, he said, “are you spending your money with businesses that employ people who look like you?”
He likewise encouraged the audience to pull away from entertainers, even African-American ones, “who disrespect mothers and daughters.”
The Rev. Copeland ended by encouraging all Christians, black and white, to stick together. He used the example of football Packer Cheeseheads. “I have seen a white man wear a jersey with a black man’s name on it and encourage that black man to tear a white opponent’s head off.”
“God made us the way he wants us to be — a mosaic,” he said.