Dr. King’s “Bank of Justice is Bankrupt” Speech Was Tested in Oakland in 1962

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When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Oakland Auditorium Dec. 28, 1962 before a 7,000-plus crowd, the themes of his famous March on Washington speech were tested.

 

Many of the economic justice ideas that King presented, which were a precursor to a call for reparations from the Freedmen’s Bank experience, were also presented months earlier at the McClymonds High School “Mind of the Ghetto” Conference, sponsored by the Afro-American Association, which Malcolm X, Don Warden, Cassius Clay, Floyd McKissick, Wil Ussery, Thomas Berkley, Paul Cobb and many other Black leaders attended.

 

 

Rev. Ray Williams, pastor of Morning Star Baptist who attended the historic event, said: “Pastor Edward Stovall of the progressive Baptist Church of Berkeley led a group of ministers into history. Rev. Stovall reached across the denominational lines to invite ministers of other faiths including Rev. Roy Nichols, a Methodist leader; activist George Henderson of the Star Baptist Church; Rev. Peyton E. Pierce, president of the Baptist Minister Union; and several leaders of the Catholic Church.

 

“The predominantly Black audience signaled for a political awakening that set the stage for the elections of Attorney Thomas Berkley and Barney Hilburn to the Oakland Broad of Education, and Byron Rumford to the State Assembly.”

 

Rev. Frank Pinkard, pastor of Evergreen Baptist, said, “King captured our desire for economic redemption when he opened his March on Washington speech where he said the US Government has given Blacks a note marked “insufficient funds.” That part of the speech should have been equally glamorized as the famous I have a dream phrase.”

 

In his speech King said: “We have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

 

“This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’

 

“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

 

“So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.”

 

Assembly member Rob Bonta and Post Publisher Paul Cobb will speak about Dr. King on Sunday, Jan. 17, at 2:30 p.m. at Morning Star Baptist, 1136 34th St. at Adeline in Oakland.

 

Bonta’s father and Cobb marched with King in Selma in 1965. Cobb will also speak at 11:30 a.m. at First Presbyterian in Oakland on Sunday.

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