A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr

Lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Cesar E. Chavez
January 12, 1990

My friends, today we honor a giant among men: today we honor the reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a powerful figure of destiny, of courage, of sacrifice, and of vision. Few people in the long history of this nation can rival his accomplishment, his reason, or his selfless dedication to the cause of peace and social justice.

Today we honor a wise teacher, an inspiring leader, and a true visionary, but to truly honor Dr. King we must do more than say words of praise. We must learn his lessons and put his views into practice, so that we may truly be free at last. Who was Dr. King?

Many people will tell you of his wonderful qualities and his many accomplishments, but what makes him special to me, the truth many people don't want you to remember, is that Dr. king was a great activist, fighting for radical social change with radical methods. While other people talked about change, Dr. King used direct action to challenge the system. He welcomed it, and used it wisely. In his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. king wrote that "The purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."

During my first fast in 1968, Dr. King reminded me that our struggle was his struggle too. He sent me a telegram, which said "Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity." I was profoundly moved that someone facing such a tremendous struggle himself would take the time to worry about a struggle taking place on the other side of the continent. Just as Dr. King was a disciple of Ghandi and Christ, we must now be Dr. King's disciples. Dr. King challenged us to work for a greater humanity. I only hope that we are worthy of his challenge. The United Farm Workers are dedicated to carrying on the dream of reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. My friends, I would like to tell you about the struggle of the Farm workers who are waging a desperate struggle for our rights, for our children's rights and for our very lives. Many decades ago the chemical industry promised the growers that pesticides would bring great wealth and bountiful harvests to the fields. Just recently, the experts are learning what farm workers, and the truly organized farmers have known for years. The prestigious National Academy of Sciences recently concluded an exhaustive five-year study, which determined that pesticides do not improve profits and do not produce more crops.

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. And you cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

In our life and death struggle for justice we have turned to the court of last resort: the American people. And the people are ruling in our favor.

As a result, grape sales keep falling. We have witnessed truckloads of grapes being dumped because no one would stop to buy them. As demand drops, so do prices and profits. The growers are under tremendous economic pressure. We are winning, but there is still much hard work ahead of us. I hope that you will join our struggle. The simple act of refusing to buy table grapes laced with pesticides is a powerful statement that the growers understand. Economic pressure is the only language the growers speak, and they are beginning to listen.

Please, boycott table grapes. For your safety, for the workers, and for the children, we must act together. My friends, Dr. King realized that the only real wealth comes from helping others. I challenge each and every one of you to be a true disciple of Dr. King, to be truly wealthy. I challenge you to carry on his work by volunteering to work for a just cause you believe in.

Consider joining our movement because the farm workers, and so many other oppressed peoples, depend upon the unselfish dedication of its volunteers, people just like you.

Thousands of people have worked for our cause and have gone on to achieve success in many different fields.

Our non-violent cause will give you skills that will last a lifetime. When Dr. King sounded the call for justice, the freedom riders answered the call in droves. I am giving you the same opportunity to join the same cause, to free your fellow human beings from the yoke of oppression.

I have faith that in this audience there are men and women with the same courage and the same idealism, that put young Martin Luther King, Jr. on the path to social change.

I challenge you to join the struggle of the United Farm Workers. And if you don't join our cause, then seek out the many organizations seeking peaceful social change. Seek out the many outstanding leaders who will speak to you this week, and make a difference.

If we fail to learn that each and every person can make a difference, then we will have betrayed Dr. King's life's work. The reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had more than just a dream, he had the love and the faith to act.

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