America’s historical memory has glossed over the reality surrounding Martin Luther King Jr., said a Danville native who is now an assistant attorney general in North Carolina.
“We’ve made Dr. King into the happiest negro,” Torrey Dixon said during a speech at the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Breakfast at the Stratford Conference Center on Monday morning.
The event was held by the Rho Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.
Dixon, a 2000 graduate of Averett University and a graduate of Duke Law School and Duke Divinity School, told hundreds of people in attendance that America celebrates Independence Day with no mention of slavery, and Columbus Day with no mention of atrocities against Native Americans.
The same principle can be applied to the way many people view King.
“Where can we find the real Dr. King?” Dixon said.
He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 at 19 and in the mid-1950s, his home was bombed by segregationists due to the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott, Dixon pointed out.
“We are not hurt, and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place,” Dixon quoted King as saying following the incident.
In 1958, King was stabbed by a demented woman while he was signing copies of his first book in a Harlem department store. If he had just sneezed then, he would have died, Dixon said.
He visited Danville three times in 1963 and was issued a federal injunction ordering him not to demonstrate in the city, Dixon said.
“I have so many injunctions that I don’t even look at them anymore,” Dixon quoted King as saying. “I was enjoined Jan. 15, 1929, when I was born in the United States a negro.”
Dixon noted that Danville, the last capital of the Confederacy, had the worst resistance to desegregation and police brutality, according to King.
“Danville had the worst police brutality he had seen,” Dixon said.
King also called for a “future showdown” in three cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, and Danville, Dixon said.
In his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” King called for reparations for black people.
“No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the negro in America down through the centuries,” Dixon said, quoting King’s book. “Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages.”
King also criticized the capitalist system in 1967: “We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant work ethic and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”
He publicly opposed the Vietnam War and equated American foreign policy with that of Nazi Germany, Dixon pointed out.
Out of King’s and others’ struggles came the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, Dixon said.
Before Dixon’s speech, Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones said King emphasized a message of staying together and maintaining unity in order to make progress.
“We cannot stand separated and hope to advance,” Jones said. “Together, we strive for a better Danville.”
“If Dr. King would have been alive today, he would be 90 years old,” he added. “What would he say?”
As for his own life, Dixon said he decided to work in civil rights law because he wanted to make real change.
He pointed to his own experiences with racism that led him to pursue work in civil rights.
In the late 1990s, he attended a wedding with a white friend of his in Northern Virginia as an uninvited guest.
“His parents did not want him to drive to the mountains alone,” Dixon recalled. “So I agreed to go. When I got there I realized it was an all-white affair, and I am not talking about the wedding parties’ attire.”
When the reception band began playing 1970s funk, Dixon experienced an unpleasant surprise.
“Everyone at the reception simultaneously pulled out nappy afro wigs from a box and put them on,” he said. “Sometimes being black in America feels like making the best of a wedding you were not originally invited to.”
Dixon also recalled being stopped and unjustifiably detained by campus police while walking from the library to his American history class in law school.
During his speech, he urged everyone to “be more than dreamers in facing the real challenges of today.”
“You have a Supreme Court that has already overturned half of the Voting Rights Act and is now more stacked with Trump appointees,” he said. “It is now waiting to hear cases which place what is left of affirmative action on the chopping block. We just had direct voter disenfranchisement in North Carolina in our last election.”
However, “you cannot sit still,” he added.
“You can’t be stopped by Trump’s walls around the poor, around anyone who is not white, wealthy and male,” he said. “By faith, you are the sons and daughters of the Israelites who did more than just dream, but they marched and marched around the walls of Jericho until the walls came tumbling down. You’ve got work to do.”
The event included selected songs performed by members of Averett University’s Black Student Union.
Omega Psi Phi member James Green, who introduced Dixon, likened him to King due to Dixon’s work in civil rights.
“Let’s look at him as our Martin Luther King today, from Danville,” Green said just before Dixon spoke.