On April 26, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke before the student body gathered in the Glenville High School auditorium, in Cleveland, Ohio. Following that speech Dr. King began a series of addresses designed to encourage young people to develop their self-worth. King asked young people to find a “deep sense of somebodiness” that would promote their steadfastness as they navigated life. What was slightly different about this delivery, though, was King’s admission that – even as he stood before them as a great orator and statesman – he did not read well.
“I remember when I was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I had to go to high school on the other side of town. At that time, it was the only high school for Negroes in the whole city of Atlanta, the Booker T. Washington High School. When I was a student there, we had 7,000 students in that one school. I guess that’s the reason I can’t read too well now, because the teacher had to spend all the time getting the class in order and disciplining the class because it was so overcrowded…”
The impact it must have had on young people to have a man many counted as a hero admit a type of frailty to which they could possibly relate. Some students would remark afterward that they felt greatly encouraged that King was so mindful of their emotional development and self-esteem.
Charity Poole, 69, told the Informer, she remembered well a similar address given by Dr. King at Philadelphia’s Barratt Junior High in October of 1967 that also focused on “somebodiness.”
“My family had moved to Philly from Memphis and all of us kids felt a bit out of place – even among other Black people because we seemed really unsophisticated and country. I remember, it seemed like Dr. King was talking directly to me, when he started saying, you have to desegregate your mind and don’t let anyone tell you that you are less than,” Poole said. “Just that bit of encouragement from someone unique and powerful… but also from the South, made me take a different look at myself.”
King’s focus on the power to transform oneself irrespective of bitter environments became an insightful catapult for generations of young people who faced all manner of injustices. King spoke of the extra efforts by his parents and the larger community to supplement the educational deficiencies lassoed to segregated schools.
“Fortunately, I had parents who taught me from the very beginning that I was somebody, and that I should never feel inferior. They taught all of us that, that we should feel that we are as good as any other children… Don’t let anybody make you feel that you are nobody, because the minute one feels that way, he is incapable of rising to his full maturity as a person.”
As the nation celebrates Dr. King’s birthday this year, we do so, faced with unprecedented modern unrest, a deadly virus that has reached pandemic proportions, and a debilitating economic downturn. Perhaps never before has the need for introspection – the necessity of self-awareness and self-crucifixion, been more critical. King’s push for somebodiness and calls to desegregate the mind require a willingness to not only challenge the rampant injustices streamed into our minds, but also to assess how we define ourselves, our surroundings, and our fight.
The WI’s 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Supplement is designed to engage readers, but also challenge them to rise to the occasion and do the work of reasserting their value and place in the fight for justice and equality. Our writers have taken to the streets and the archives – investigating Mamie and Kenneth Clark’s Doll Tests and the impact of segregated minds on the nation. With this supplement as a guide, we have provided a few of the tools needed to create the best you and a better nation.
Read, Learn, Grow!