Dr. King once said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
When Martin Luther King Jr. Day rolls around each year, media outlets wheel out all the usual speeches (“I Have a Dream”), writings (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”) and seminal events (Montgomery Bus Boycott, Selma March) to serve as the red-letter dates of a great American’s life. Granted, these things are all vital touchstones for any American citizen, especially now, when racism is bubbling up from the bottom of the cauldron we once called our “melting pot.”
The one speech by Dr. King that never seems to be mentioned in these annual encomiums is his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, which he delivered to a distinguished audience in Oslo Norway on Dec. 10, 1964. Very few orators in American history can match it. No, scratch that. Very few orators in human history can match it. It was 52 minutes in length. Here is just a snippet:
In honor of Dr. King, we offer the following anti-racist playlist. Consider this our attempt not to remain silent.
“Mississippi Goddam” – Nina Simone
After the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evans in June 1963, followed by the bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama that September that killed four little girls, Nina Simone wrote the incendiary “Mississippi Goddam.” She was, she said, “driven by the hope of black revolution.” The righteous anger just pours out of this remarkable concert footage from 1965.
“Funny Vibe” – Living Colour
Vernon Reid wants to know “Why you wanna give that Funny Vibe?” With a little help from Flavor Flav and Chuck D from Public Enemy.
This official video to the song is pretty damn righteous:
“Everyday People” – Sly & the Family Stone
Sylvester Stewart was very “sly” with his lyrical takes on contemporary issues. He didn’t hammer things over the head or call for violent revolution. He just got you up on your feet and made you think at the same time. His most overtly militant song, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” was like a Richard Pryor stand-up routine: While you’re laughing, you’re thinking. But the hit single from the album Stand, “Everyday People” said it all: There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one/ And different strokes for different folks / And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo
“Here’s to the State of Mississippi” – Phil Ochs
Toward the end of his life—in fact, in one of his last public appearances before his suicide—Phil Ochs rewrote this song as “Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon.” If he were alive today, all he’d have to do is change the names all over again. The song is still relevant.
“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” – Nick Lowe
In keeping with the non-violent spirit of Dr. King, we will end with this shimmering version of Nick Lowe’s beautiful song.
Here’s the letter that Martin Luther King Jr.’s wrote from the Birmingham Jail, one of the great pieces of polemical writing.