Cesar E. Chavez Talks About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Cesar E. Chavez
Cesar E. Chavez gave a speech in honor of Dr King on January 12, 1990. Below are the excerpts from the speech about Dr. King.
My friends, today we honor a giant among men: today we honor the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a powerful figure of destiny, of courage, of sacrifice, and of vision. Few people in the long history of this nation can rival his accomplishment, his reason, or his selfless dedication to the cause of peace and social justice. Today we honor a wise teacher, an inspiring leader, and a true visionary, but to truly honor Dr. King we must do more than say words of praise.
We must learn his lessons and put his views into practice, so that we may truly be free at last.
Who was Dr. King? Many people will tell you of his wonderful qualities and his many accomplishments, but what makes him special to me, the truth many people don't want you to remember, is that Dr. King was a great activist, fighting for radical social change with radical methods. While other people talked about change, Dr. King used direct action to challenge the system. He welcomed it, and used it wisely.
In his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote that "The purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation." Dr. King was also radical in his beliefs about violence. He learned how to successfully fight hatred and violence with the unstoppable power of nonviolence.
He once stopped an armed mob, saying: "We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we live by. We must meet hate with love." Dr. King knew that he very probably wouldn't survive the struggle that he led so well. But he said "If I am stopped, the movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just, and God is with us."
My friends, as we enter a new decade, it should be clear to all of us that there is an unfinished agenda, that we have miles to go before we reach the promised land.
Dr. King proclaimed "There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression." My friends, the time for action is upon us. The enemies of justice want you to think of Dr. King as only a civil rights leader, but he had a much broader agenda. He was a tireless crusader for the rights of the poor, for an end to the war in Vietnam long before it was popular to take that stand, and for the rights of workers everywhere.
Many people find it convenient to forget that Martin was murdered while supporting a desperate strike on that tragic day in Memphis, Tennessee. He died while fighting for the rights of sanitation workers.
Dr. King's dedication to the rights of the workers who are so often exploited by the forces of greed has profoundly touched my life and guided my struggle.
During my first fast in 1968, Dr. King reminded me that our struggle was his struggle too. He sent me a telegram which said "Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity."
I was profoundly moved that someone facing such a tremendous struggle himself would take the time to worry about a struggle taking place on the other side of the continent. Just as Dr. King was a disciple of Ghandi and Christ, we must now be Dr. King's disciples. Dr. King challenged us to work for a greater humanity. I only hope that we are worthy of his challenge.
My friends, Dr. King realized that the only real wealth comes from helping others. I challenge each and every one of you to be a true disciple of Dr. King, to be truly wealthy. I challenge you to carry on his work by volunteering to work for a just cause you believe in.
Consider joining our movement because the farm workers, and so many other oppressed peoples, depend upon the unselfish dedication of its volunteers, people just like you.
Thousands of people have worked for our cause and have gone on to achieve success in many different fields.
Our non-violent cause will give you skills that will last a lifetime. When Dr. King sounded the call for justice, the freedom riders answered the call in droves. I am giving you the same opportunity to join the same cause, to free your fellow human beings from the yoke of oppression.
I have faith that in this audience there are men and women with the same courage and the same idealism, that put young Martin Luther King, Jr. on the path to social change.
I challenge you to join the struggle of the United Farm Workers. And if you don't join our cause, then seek out the many organizations seeking peaceful social change. Seek out the many outstanding leaders who speak to you, and make a difference.
If we fail to learn that each and every person can make a difference, then we will have betrayed Dr. King's life's work. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had more than just a dream, he had the love and the faith to act.
God Bless You.
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