CHICAGO ( – Many of the civil rights gains that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid his life on the line to achieve for Black people are gradually being eroded, was the lament during a panel discussion hosted at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters here April 2 to commemorate the slain leader’s life.

Reverend Jesse Jackson invited the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, the eminent scholar and historian Dr. Ron Walters and DePaul University law professor Dr. Michelle Goodwin to examine the state of the Black community 37 years after the assassination of Dr. King. The public forum was an extension from an early morning taping of Rev. Jackson’s show, “Up Front,” wherein the four prominent figures focused on the legacy of Dr. King and the future of Black people, entitled, “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: A Charge to Keep.”

The discussion, which was moderated by WVON radio personality Cliff Kelley, opened with a look at the Voting Rights Act, which will have to be reauthorized in 2007. While Dr. Walters saluted the closing of the gap between Blacks and Whites who have registered and voted since 1965, he insisted that “simply to have the percentage is not enough. The goal is empowerment.” Black people must use strategy in order to leverage their voting power and turn it into public policy.


“There are new barriers to our voting, miscalculations, misrepresentation, disenfranchisement,” he charged, “It is easier to steal an election than ever before.”

Minister Farrakhan recognized Dr. King’s effort to knock down laws that were corrupt and created enormous suffering for Black people. “He was fighting to give America perpetuity in trying to make America more just,” he said. “But 50 years after Brown (v. Board of Education), we still have an inferior and inadequate education and 47 years after the Public Accommodations Bill, we have access, but have lost what we had during segregation. It was not Dr. King’s dream to have Black people end up integrated with nothing,” he declared to a thunderous applause.

The panel discussion turned to criticism of the prison industrial complex as “neo-slavery,” in the words of Rev. Jackson, that is more about “economic development and political suppression.” He noted that some counties receive additional funding for programs because the prison population is included in the total census of residents, yet inmates do not have a political voice or vote.

When Cliff Kelley brought the topic of the war in Iraq to the table, the panelists responded with a rawness that touched the nerves of the audience.

“America is an anti-Christ nation with an anti-Christ president,” Minister Farrakhan argued, adding that the government has violated the commandments against stealing and lying in order to gain control over the oil resources in Iraq and misuse the production of the poppy in Afghanistan to reinvigorate the drug trade. “America needs a moral awakening and moral challenge. And we are here to produce that kind of challenge,” he told the audience of Black people’s role in this hour.

We are living in a “surreal atmosphere,” opined Dr. Walters. “White nationalists are in positions gathering power. Why is it that they are not accountable? White nationalism is ascending in this country and the people who support it are getting a pass,” he further maintained.

“Where is God?” Rev. Jackson asked, in response to a question about the Terry Schiavo case, singling out progressives who have gotten away from God-centered questions in their agendas. “Faith and culture must not cut a deal,” he insisted, stressing that the case highlights the need for universal health care. “Faith must transform culture. Faith must be of substance,” he added.

Dr. Goodwin expressed concern over the injustice in the high cost of the care for one woman, Ms. Schiavo, while the Congress cut the budget to the point where clean water cannot even be guaranteed. She criticized Congress and the President for rushing to sign the bill in defense of keeping the feeding tube in Ms. Schiavo, “when 45 million people are suffering without health care.”

In the final analysis, Minister Farrakhan urged Black people to act in their best interest and support their leaders that sacrifice for them, so that they won’t be crying in the wilderness. He referenced the time, 37 years after the murder of Dr. King, to the 37th Chapter of Ezekiel in the Bible, as well as what Black people must do now, with the 37th Surah of the Holy Qur’an, entitled, “Those ranging in ranks,” in order to forge a future that is free and better for the next generation.