How the Stennis' confederacy table (given to Biden) is primed to become MLK's proposed table of brotherhood

How the Stennis' confederacy table (given to Biden) is primed to become MLK's proposed table of brotherhood
Source unknown; quote attributed to Shirley Chisholm

Ever wonder if President-elect, Biden and MLK crossed paths?

I sure did. Two champions of civil rights were bound to intersect. But, I don’t think they ever met in person, though if you comb through the I Have a Dream speech (“Speech”), you can see how their ideas intersect and how objects, literally a table, personify their dedication to equality.

For close to a decade, I taught Dr. King’s extraordinary Speech to fifth graders. It was part of a Humanities unit (entitled Fighting Oppression), and our team (gifted resource teachers) paired it with a chapter from Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, both exceptional literary works.

And what I loved most about teaching the Speech was exploring the symbols and context with students, illuminated by the work of Michael Clay Thompson (see, rfwp.com). My students were drawn in by images of the Capitol that day—so very different from the recent horrors of January 6, 2021. What fifth graders saw–year after year–were inspired persons of all color standing together on August, 28,1963, listening to a man who could deliver–some of Dr. King’s Speech was impromptu.

As I became more adept at teaching the Speech, and explaining the context, I paid attention to my students’ faces; looking back at 1963, they marveled at the number of toilets set up to accommodate the peaceful protestors, they were awed that then President JFK turned to his brother RFK, ( both of whom were listening to Dr, King together at the White House) and noted, “this guy is good,” …. Thompson’s work makes the Speech come alive as he teases apart the assonance, the alliteration, the symbolism, the metaphors, the opposites–contemplate the melodic, yet chilling contrasts:

I have a dream that one day…a state [MIssissippi] sweltering with the heat of injustice will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

In 1963, Dr. King advised those present that he had come to cash a symbolic check. It was a promissory note supporting the need to liberate persons of color, as mandated by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. His message—57 years ago—was that society must act now.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

Dr. King touted 1963 as a beginning. Today, all I can say is “the horror.”  We are still in a deep abyss although a new era dawns on Wednesday.

The sweltering seasons playing out over the last 57 years have scarred our humanity at a minimum, fueling a 2020 which led to the autumn of systemic abuse….hardly the table of brotherhood that Dr. King had called for and the movement that President-Elect Biden has vigorously supported.

When I was doing research on the connection between Joe Biden and Dr. King this week, the story behind a table, dubbed the Confederacy Table, caught my interest.

Joe Biden ran for Congress to advance civil rights. In fact, he told that to staunch conservative Senator John Stennis, who among other things, collaborated with other senators to derail civil rights during the course of his career; Stennis also opposed marking today as a national holiday in honor of Dr. King.

Yet, there is a happy ending to this story.

In a move that indicates Biden has the ability to shift folks’ mindsets, Biden recalled how Senator Stennis (I think Biden was to move into Stennis’ office years ago) gifted President-elect Biden a table that some senators (during the fifties and sixties) met at to figure out ways to block the Civil Rights movement. Don’t know how big the table is, but do know that it sat a fair number of bigots for many years.

Here’s how the Stennis-Biden exchange goes…

“You see this table, Joe.

The table was the flagship of the confederacy from 1954 to 1968. We sat here, most of us from the Deep South, the Confederacy, and we plotted the demise of the civil rights movement…

And now it’s time that this table go from the possession of a man who was against civil rights to a man who was for civil rights….*.

Pretty powerful stuff—Stennis goes on to say that the civil rights movement freed his soul, or shifted an aging white man’s thinking on the importance of extending civil rights to all.

As you re-read the speech, note that King’s table of brotherhood (seating former slave owners and slaves together) is situated somewhere on the red hills of Georgia. Prophetic. I will always admire the Georgians who put country over party by denying Trump’s false and inflammatory claims, ducking (yet recording) Trump’s illegal gestures, and warning, as Gabriel Sterling did—after we had heard the BIG LIE for months after the election (and thus making it very foreseeable that blood would be spilled)–that someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed, it’s not right.” **

Only two more days of Trump’s Thugocracy. And I am optimistic. I see the Biden-Harris administration as a “beacon of hope,” (just like MLK saw in 1963) agents of participatory democracy, folks who care about humanity, education, immigration, COVID and access to health care, our planet, decency…. folks who will never be satisfied until all souls “are free at last.”

Let freedom— (not the deafening death cries of January 6th) —ring from our nation’s capital on Wednesday. Set up the table and shift some mindsets, President Biden!

As for me, I’ve set up my folding chair, primed for Wednesday!

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