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Difference in US, Caribbean black experience on show

Published:Friday | June 18, 2021 | 7:21 AMA Digital Integration & Marketing production
As Dr Martin Luther King left the National Stadium on June 21, 1965, hundreds of persons mobbed the car and tried to get near to him. Here he shakes hands with a bearded man while others stretch out their hand towards him. At right the crowds ran after the car with shouts of “Long Live Dr. King”.
Rev Dr Martin Luther King, addressing the crowd at the National Stadium.

The black-American man behaves a certain way. His boisterous, maybe overly confrontational nature is often misunderstood here in the Caribbean and here is why. The experience of the freed slaves of the Caribbean, though not without challenges, was different from that of Americans of the same ilk. Those in the Caribbean were freed to become citizens of a majority black population, while those in the United States, still found themselves marginalized by the numbers. They were a minority. And so they had to fight for much longer, and much harder to be classified in the same way as the majority white population. No less a figure than civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, on a visit to Jamaica explains this. The fight continues today.

Published Tuesday, June 22, 1965

King: In Jamaica, I feel like a human being

  • Handed Key to the City

NOBEL Peace winner and Civil Rights leader the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said on Monday, June 21, 1965, that in all his travel he had never felt more at home than in Jamaica.

Referring to the late President Kennedy’s visit to Berlin and his famous declaration “I am a Berliner", Dr King said he was proud to say "I am a Jamaican."

Addressing his "brothers and sisters of this wonderful island of Jamaica, " Dr King remarked that in the light of the many unpleasant and humiliating experiences with which he had to live, he was always glad to feel like somebody, "and in Jamaica, I really feel like a human being."

The occasion was Dr King's reply at the June 21 civic reception at the National Stadium, under the auspices of the Commissioners of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, when Dr King was presented with the symbolic key of the City of Kingston and given the freedom of the city.

In an impassioned address of over 40 minutes, Dr King spoke of the "freedom explosion" that was in process all over the world and said the time had come for the idea of freedom and human dignity to have full power and meaning. The oppressed coloured people of the United States, he added, were through with segregation "now, henceforth and forevermore". Everyone "from ne treble white to bass black" was significant. 

The Civil Rights leader expressed the opinion that there was no place in the fight to secure human rights for delay and waiting for things to right themselves. A man who in his thirties refused to take the decision to stand up for his rights because he was afraid he might lose his job, might be victimized, hurt or even killed, might live to be 90; but he would have died from the moment he failed to face the issue, and his death at 90 would be only the delayed announcement.

Many situations

In the struggle against injustice and the fight for real freedom, there were three important little words to consider "all', "here" and "now". Said he: "We want all our freedom, we want it here, and we want it now".

Dr King declared that one of the over-used words in the jargon of modern psychology was "maladjusted". He was himself proud to be "maladjusted" to certain things in his society, such as the many situations in which the coloured peoples were being asked to accept positions of inferiority. 

He pointed out that the Negroes in the United States had started to arrive there against their will in 1619, one rear before the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. There were 22,000,000 of them, and they could not continue with the "sense of nobodyness" that was being forced upon them. He would go back from Jamaica more inspired than ever before. 

The ceremony began more than half an hour late, Dr and Mrs King having been delayed. Mrs King had a busy day in the Corporate Area and returned to the Sheraton-Kingston Hotel just a few minutes before the scheduled start. 

After the entry of the Governor-General and Dr King's party, some of the presentations that should have preceded the ceremony were omitted to save time, and after some music by the Jamaica the Military Band, the acting Prime Minister, the Hon. Edwin Allen gave the welcome address. Included in this address was a letter to Dr and Mrs King from Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Sir Alexander Bustamante. Both this letter and Mr Allen's address proper were applauded almost at every sentence. 

Next came the Hon. Edward Seaga, who after describing Dr King as "the greatest man of our times" and praising his work for civil justice, went on to refer to Marcus Garvey and Jamaica's recommendation to the UN on International Human Rights Year, ending with the major announcement that Jamaica had decided to set up a Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights of £5,000 about every two years, starting in 1968.

After addresses by the Deputy Commissioner of the KSAC, Mr Milton Rodriques, and the acting Town Clerk, Mr Basil Daniels, Mr Eustace Bird, the Commissioner, presented the keys of the city to Dr King. Little Vivienne Duggan then presented Mrs King with basket of flowers.


After a short selection by the Jamaica Military Band, Dr King moved to the microphone to reply. The band started playing "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow", and the audience rose and joined in.

Following is the text of his speech:

"Mr. Chairman, your Excellencies, distinguished and Honourable Ministers, the distinguished Commissioner of Kingston, distinguished platform guests, my brothers and sisters of this wonderful island of Jamaica: I think I can say that out of my many experiences of life, out of my numerous travels around the world and to all of the continents of the world, I have never felt more at home than I do here in Jamaica on this short visit.

"I need not remind you of the fact that there are many things that I must live with,

and I must deal with, and struggle with, that bring a great deal of humiliation to my life and the life of the people with whom I work; and it is always a heartening and enriching experience that when I can be in a situation when I feel like I am somebody. And in Jamaica, I really feel like a human being.

"About two years ago, the late and great President of our Nation John Fitzgerald Kennedy made a visit to Berlin, and as he visited the city of Berlin, he stood in the square of that city and uttered these words "Ich bin ein Berliner" to say "I am a Berliner". And I want to stand tonight in the National Stadium of Jamaica and say "I am a Jamaican". (Applause).

"I do not have words adequate to describe the joy that has come to my heart for the tremendous reception that you have given me and that you have given my devoted and lovely wife. As you know in life when you set out to do a job, you cannot do it alone. You must have the companionship of real coworkers, and this is what my wife has been to me.

"You must have the companionship of dear friends, and I am happy tonight that my closest friend and associate in this struggle-and I should say my perennial cellmate in jail - Ralph David Abernathy, is able to be here with me, and also his charming wife and my assistant the Rev. Bernard Lee. We are all delighted to be here, and I certainly want to express my deep personal appreciation to the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of the City of Kingston and all of my friends here for presenting me with the key to the city, and I can assure you that I will cherish this honour and I will cherish this expression of support for many, many years to come.

Many things

"I guess there are many things that one can say as we think about our common struggle and as we think about the problems that pervade our world, but if that is only one thing I'd like to leave with you this evening, it is the fact of this freedom explosion all over the world, Victor Hugo said on one occasion that "there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come" and the idea whose time has come today, is the idea of freedom and human dignity.

"Today, whether it be Johannesburg, South Africa; in Nairobi, Kenya; in Accra, Ghana; New York City, Selma or Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; or Kingston, Jamaica, the cry is always the same: 'We want to be free'. (Applause).

I would like to take the time left to me to say just a few words concerning the meaning of our struggle taking place in the United States. You know about this struggle, you have read about it, many of your brothers and sisters live in the United States, you know of the deep agonies and the deep groans, the deep longings and I deep aspirations that we all have for freedom, and over and over again, people ask me the question What are you doing?

What does the struggle mean? what Is the nature of the revolution that exalts the whole nation, the whole United States? And I would like to take just a few moments to reply, to say to you what I consider to be the nature of this revolution and exactly what we are saying and what we are trying to do.

"You will probably know for many years now, indeed since 1896 when the Supreme Court of our nation rendered a decision which established the doctrine of 'separate but equal' as the law of the land, we have lived with the system of racial segregation. That system meant in substance that Negro citizens of the United States, 22,000,000 strong, could not go into certain places; they could not go to certain restaurants, certain motels or hotels of the South; they found themselves attending separate and inadequate and unequal schools; they found themselves the victim of segregation in recreational facilities. For years we lived with that system,

"Now In 1954, the Supreme Court of our nation rendered a new decision which said in substance that this doctrine must go, that separate facilities are unequal, that to segregate a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the land. May I submit to you this evening that one of the basic aspects in the revolution, the Negro revolution taking in place in the United States, is the revolt against racial segregation; for the Negro is saying in the United States that we are eternally through with racial segregation and we will not accept it any longer (applause).

"There are many reasons why we won't accept segregation. One reason is that segregation is morally wrong and sinful. Segregation is evil because it is based on human laws that are out of harmony with the eternal, the natural, and the moral laws of the Universe; and so we will not accept segregation because it is morally wrong and sinful.

"But there is another thing that goes along with that. That is the terrible agony which comes when one says to you: 'We will not allow you to enter this place', not merely because you lack certain cultural and educational things, because if that is the reason you can go and get a little education and a little culture, not merely because you are devoid of money if that is the reason you can go out and make a little money.


"When people say to you that you are denied opportunities because of the colour of your skin and because of your race, they are saying in substance that God himself made a mistake and that you are not even worthy of dignity (applause).

"And so we are saying that we are not going to relegate our God to that level, but that is another thing that we are saying. Segregation is impractical, it has no practical validity: and we e realize that if America is ever to rise to its full maturity, we must get rid of this unjust and this evil system.

"We will no longer sell our birthright of freedom for a mess of segregated pottage, we are through with segregation and I say to you that we are through with segregation now, henceforth and forevermore (applause).

"Revolution in our country also means that we have a new sense of dignity and a new sense of destiny. It was in the year 1619 that the first slaves landed on the shores of the United States, and I need not say to you what slavery means, because you, our brothers in this section of the world know all too well the meaning of slavery. 

"It was In the year 1619 when it started in the United States. Negro slaves who landed on the shores of the United States, unlike the Pilgrim Fathers who landed at Ply mouth a year later, were brought there against their will; and after 300 years,  Africa was plundered, our native kingdom disorganized, our people and rulers demoralized.

On the shores of the United States, we knew slavery for 244 years, living with the conditions of slavery and then later racial segregation. Many Negroes came to feel that they were inhuman, that they were inferior. Unconsciously they felt a sense of nobodyness; then something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it possible for him to travel more -the coming of the automobile, the upheavals of two World Wars, the Great Depression.

"And so his plantation background gradually gave way to urban industrial life, and even his economic life was gradually rising; the growth of industry, the influence of organized labour, expanded educational opportunities, and even his cultural life was rising through the steady decline of illiteracy, and all of these forces joined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. 

"Negro masses all over the United States began to re-evaluate themselves. The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image and every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God's keyboard, and so the Negro could now unconsciously cry out with eloquent voice that "Black complexion cannot forfeit Nature's claim. Skins may differ; affection dwells in black and white the same.

So tall as to reach the pole 

Or to grasp the ocean as a span,

I must be measured by my soul;

The mind is the standard of the man.

"With this new sense of dignity, this new sense of destiny, this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being with a new determination to suffer, to sacrifice, and even to die if necessary in order to be free.

Other thing

"The other thing that characterizes the revolution taking place in our country is the fact that we recognize the urgency of the moment. There are always people who learn how to say wait, and know how to say it eloquently; and we hear that over and over again. And so often we have waited, only to discover that our waiting gave birth to many frustrating moments. They are so many people who tell us: 'you ought to cool off, you're pushing things too fast'. And the only answer we can give is that we have cooled, off too long now and that there is the danger that we will end up in a deep freeze (laughter).

"To say it another way, they say you ought to slow up for a while, put on brakes. The only answer we can give is that the motor is now cranked up, we are moving up the highway of freedom towards the city of equality, and we can't afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny; we must keep moving.

"There are those who say well you ought to be gradual about it, but that's a policy of gradualism; and so often we call gradualism only to discover that gradualism is little more than do-nothingism and an escapism which ends up in stand-still-ism. Or they say adopt the policy of moderation.

Well if moderation means moving on for the goal of justice with restraint and calm

reasonableness, then moderation is a great virtue which all men of goodwill must seek to achieve in this tense period of transition; but if moderation means slowing up in the struggle of freedom and perpetuating to the undemocratic practices of the guardians of a deadening stigma, then moderation is a tragic vice which all men of goodwill must condemn.

"We can't afford to slow up; we must keep moving about. Three little words tell the meaning of our struggle. They are the words all, here and now, Well want all of our freedom; we want it here, and we want it now. That is the meaning of the revolution. 

"Now one of the interesting things in our revolution is that we have found a creative method through which we can articulate our longings for freedom, and express our legitimate discontent. We have discovered that we can stand up with might and with power, and yet not stoop to hatred and violence in the process. Now it is important to say this-that one of the misunderstood aspects of our struggles is because violence is no prevalent in our world, and so many people believe in it.

"We know that violence is something of an inseparable twin of Western imperialism, and the hallmark of its grandeur. Now I come to believe, and I believe more than ever before that nonviolence is the most important weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.


"When I talk about love I am not talking about a weak force; I'm talking about what Arnold Thornley the great English historian talked about when he said, that love is that force which makes the world turn around, John is right. God is love, and he who hates does not know God, but he who loves at that moment has grasped the key that opens the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

"Psychiatrists are telling us now every day that many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts are rooted in hate, and they are now saying love your parents. This is all I'm saying that with the powerful creative love that motivates and mobilizes itself into man's action, we can turn this wayward world upside down and right side up. That is the power in non-violence; it has a way of disarming the opponent and exposing his moral defences that weakens his morale; and at the same time it works on his conscience and he does not know what to do. I have seen it in Alabama, I've seen it in Mississippi, I've seen it in Georgia, I've seen it in Louisana.

"We are truly non-violent, and our opponents just don't know what to do. They seek to beat us; we developed the pious courage of acceptance in glory without retaliation. If they don't beat us, wonderful! If they don't put us in jail, wonderful! Nobody n his sense wants to go to jail; but if they put us in jail we go into that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a heaven of freedom and human dignity. (Applause)

Even if they try to kill us we have developed a conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that if a man does not discover that he would die for them he isn't fit to live.

"For a man maybe 30, he may be 36 as I happen to be; some great truth, some great principle, some great aspects of justice may stand before the door of his life and challenge him to take a stand. He refuses to take a stand because he is afraid, afraid that his home may be bombed, he is afraid that he may get shot; he is afraid that he may lose his job: he is afraid that he may be killed, and he wants to live a long life. Well he may go on to live until he is 90, but be just as dead at 36 as he is at 90, and the cessation of breathing in his life is merely a belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit, he died when he refused to stand up for justice, (Applause).

This is what the non-violence message says, and I believe that through this force and through this power we will be able to transform dark and difficult situations into more noble and glorious and steadily wider situations.

‘Thank you’

of Many People One People’. And I will be able to go back to the United States more inspired than ever before to keep working on this struggle. 

"It is tiring sometimes, it is frustrating, it has it nights while you are forced to stand in the surging murmur of life's restless seas; and I must honestly confess to you that if it hadn't been for those murmurs, I felt like giving up over and over again. Something comes back to lift my spirit and to give me new vigour to carry on.

"Before the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, we were in the United States; before Thomas Jefferson flit across the pages of history, before the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence we were there, before the beauty of those words of the Star-Spangled Banner, were written, we were there.

For more than two centuries our forefathers laboured without wages; they made Cotton things and they built the home of our masters. In the most oppressive conditions and out of the bottomless barbarity they continue to grow and develop; and if the inexpressible slavery could not stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail.

"We have gone ahead in our freedom, for the eternal will of the Almighty God is somehow embodied in our echoing demand, and so I go back with a new determination to struggle in the days ahead. If this problem is to be solved in the States and all over the world, there has to be a divine discontent.

You know that every academic discipline has its technical words that soon become stereotyped and cliched, and modern psychology has a word that is used probably more than any other word in psychology. It is the word 'maladjusted'.

1"Now we all want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and sycophantic personalities: and now tonight I stand before you and say, there are some things in the world and some things in our nation about which I am proud to be maladjusted. And with that, I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.

"I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and racial discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry; I never intend to become adjusted to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. You see that it may well be that we may need a new organization in our world, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative


"Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the Prophet Amos, when in the midst of the injustices of his day through prayers made justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty spring. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson in the midst of the age of slavery in the United States (if you look across the pages of history) uttered these words: We hold this truce to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'

"As maladjusted as Jesus Christ, who in the midst of the intricate military machinery of the Roman Empire, could say 'He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.'

"Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the deep and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man and to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and Justice. And so I say to you as we move forward in the days ahead, let us keep moving for the peaceful world, toward the day of brotherhood all over the world, and to the day of freedom.

"The struggle of freedom is hot easy. It has all of its difficult moments and your struggle for freedom against colonialism right here in Jamaica and in the West Indies is a struggle that we applaud; (and it is not at all totally different from our struggle for freedom in human dignity) and now that you have gained political Independence you must move on, and on and on to that total day of economic independence, and total day when we will have freedom and Independence in all of its dimensions.

Keep moving

"And so I close by quoting the words of the great Negro poet of America, Langston Hughes. who uttered some words through a mother to her son: "We must keep moving: If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl, but by God, keep moving...

His speech finished, Dr King was given a standing ovation, then at the invitation of the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Milton Rodriques, Her Excellency Lady Campbell presented souvenir albums of the city of Kingston to Dr King, Dr Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Bernard Lee.

Dr King, off to a reception and later a dinner party at Blue Mountain Inn, was detained for several minutes as crowds mobbed his car, seeking autographs and trying to speak to him, Mrs King and the others or in his party. When the cars moved off with the police motorcycle escort, there were still some people who ran after them for some distance.

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