Linton Weeks of National Public Radio (who last summer interviewed me for a story about the Baha'i Faith as the largest religious minority in SC) has a nice piece published yesterday on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, "Let Us March on Ballot Boxes," in Kingstree, SC, in May 1966. This time, I'm proud to say that Mr. Weeks interviewed my friend and mentor, Dr. Bobby Donaldson of the University of South Carolina. A film of the speech is part of USC's digital archive.
The speech is really some of King at his best, and as Dr. Donaldson points out, in this short film we see him out of the national spotlight, with a large crowd of regular folks in a small southern town--who respond enthusiastically to his call to shape the democratic process now that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has become law.
To King, the political tasks at hand are sacred in nature:
"Let us march on ballot boxes until every valley shall be exalted, till every mountain and hill shall be made low, until the rough places are made plain and the crooked places straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.... Let us march on ballot boxes until we are able to send to the statehouses of the South men who will do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God."
I'm really pleased that this little-known episode in local civil rights history is getting some good coverage. South Carolina's civil rights movement was large, long, and in many ways quite successful. And it was attended by plenty of white resistance, much of it violent. Yet the South Carolina movement tends to fade in in the country's collective memory--and even in the work of many scholars--in comparison with other states. I appreciate every contribution toward restoring this important legacy to its proper place in the national consciousness. Another such effort: tonight at 7:00 at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, Dr. Peniel Joseph of Tufts University will speak on the Black Power movement in the South, part of USC's biennial Media and Civil Rights History Symposium.