Working With Martin Luther King

The Washington Post's Courtland Milloy speaks with Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy about the Washington, D.C. riots that followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.Video by Akira Hakuta/
Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy
Civil and Human Rights Activist, Former Delegate to House of Representatives
Monday, April 7, 2008; 1:00 PM

Walter E. Fauntroy, civil rights activist, former delegate to the House of Representatives and pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., will be online Monday, April 7, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his personal and working relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while serving as coordinator of both the historic March on Washington in 1963 for which King gave his I Have a Dream speech, and the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965.

A transcript follows.

As a lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Fauntroy will also address the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. King, the riots that ensued in the nation's capital and around the nation and what changes have occurred in 40 years since the death of Martin Luther King.

Full Coverage: 40 Years After King

Fauntroy headed the Washington office of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He currently heads up a U.S.-based private sector effort to cure extreme poverty in Africa undertaken by the National Black Leadership Roundtable in partnership with the Zimbabwe Progress Fund.


Washington, D.C.: Would a civil rights movement of the style and focus as the one during Dr. King's time work today to call attention to injustice and discrimination today?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: The Founding Fathers gave us two means of influencing public policy. The first was to go to the polls to vote for persons who, when elected, would what we believe into public policy and practice. They realized, however, that in a one-person, one-vote, majority rule democracy, the legitimate concerns of any individual citizen might not be addressed by that formula. They gave us, therefore, a second means of influencing public policy; they gave us a classic non-violent means of affecting public policy; they gave us the First Amendment to the Constitution which stated that "No state shall deny any citizen the right of peaceable assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances."

When effectively applied as Dr. King did it, this method did two things: it raised consciousness in the body politic as to the need for a change in public policy and, secondly, it pricks the conscience of enough people in the society to demand of those whom they elect to implement the change. That's what we did in the decade of the 1960s to win civil rights and our voting rights measure. That's what we did in the 1980s to win passage of the South Africa Sanctions bill.

Whenever action in the suites fails to produce a desired result in changing public policy, action in the streets will always be a good alternative for achieving change in public policy.


Richmond, Va.: Do you think that that African Americans would have been better off educationally and economically if enforcement action was taken on the Plessey v. Ferguson decision?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Yes!


Harrisburg, Pa.: Several years ago, I wrote an article on Martin Luther King's statements on economics, and I found them very insightful and interesting. Would you please provide your perspective on how Dr. King connected the economic situation people face to the issues of race relations?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Dr. King understood that all human beings require five things to achieve a decent quality of life: 1) access to income; 2) access to education to earn income; 3) health care; 4) access to housing and 5) access to justice so that if one has those five things, no one can take it from you with impunity.

He realized also that humans will use anything as an excuse for taking those five things from another person -- race, creed, ethnicity, anything to justify taking from others what they demand for themselves. The Founding Fathers call that "The General Welfare" and stated clearly that there can be no "Domestic Tranquility " unless those five essentials are equitably distributed. Dr. King emphasized economic justice, therefore, as the linchpin of his effort to end the barbarism of war, the decadence of racism and the scourge of poverty.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Of course this is a question to which we will never know the answer, but what do you think Dr. King would have thought of the seriousness of which the country is accepting Senator Obama as a presidential candidate?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Dr. King would have seen the Obama phenomenon in the nation that is so encouraging to billions of people around the globe today as the fulfillment of his promise that one day black people would be judged not on the basis of the color of our skin but on the basis we are going to see the outsourcing of our jobs to cheaper labor markets abroad by the wealthy few of our nation, at the expense of the unmoneyed many and whether our precious young will be running around in Iraq for another 100 years ducking bombs and bullets.


Bethesda, Md.: Which of the remaining candidates in the 2008 election campaign for U.S. President do you most support?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Barack Obama


Philadelphia, Pa.: You are a minister; Rev. Martin Luther King was a minister, and I wish to ask your perspective, and what you believe would have been Dr. King's perspective, to the religious groups that claim that the issues closest to the religious communities are lowering taxes, preventing abortion and preventing gay marriage?

Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Dr. King's position here would have been that, since all Muslims, all Christians and all Jews maintain that Abraham is the Father of their faith, that Moses was the Law Giver who did not give Ten "Suggestions" but Ten Commandments, so-called spiritual leaders should not tolerate their faithful using religion as an excuse to deny income, education, health care, housing and justice to other groups of people. The problem with religion today is that too many of our religious leaders talk East and walk East on the basic tenets of our respective faith traditions and allow our faith to be used by the greed in society to take from the needy by pushing wedge issues like those referenced in your question to that divert attention for the basic issues of income, education, health care, housing in justice, the equitable distribution of which, it is the government's role to facilitate in the interest of "domestic tranquility" among all in a "civil society."


Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy: Walter Fauntroy is anxious to answer every one of the questions posed. Unfortunately, I have run out of time for the present and would welcome setting another time at our mutual convenience to take a shot at answering these excellent questions.


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