Excerpt from “A Conversation with Lawrence Hamm”
Barack Obama‘s election shows how far race relations have advanced since Lawrence Hamm was leading student demonstrations against apartheid at Princeton in the 1970s.
But true equality boils down to dollars and cents, and America’s tepid economy threatens everyone’s prosperity, the Newark activist said Thursday at a Black History Month program hosted by the Morristown Neighborhood House.
“If we don’t make a fundamental change in this country, we’re going to end up an advanced Third World country,” Larry warned. (See links below for our extended video interview, “A Conversation with Lawrence Hamm.“)
“The United States used to have the highest standard of living, the highest income. We’re at the bottom of the list of industrialized nations now. American workers work longer hours, work harder, and take home less money than workers in Japan, in Germany, in other European countries. How can that be, when we’re the richest country in the world? How can we even tolerate that kind of situation?”
Larry was keynote speaker on a program that included dance, hip hop and recognition of distinguished African American entrepreneurs and civic leaders.
Among the honorees were Morristown cosmetologist Tyrone Lynch, founder of Kids on Top Day; Dr. Dorothy Hollowell, an English professor at the County College of Morris who started the Nabe’s Homework Center; Charles Dickerson, a former AT&T manager who teaches history at CCM and Fairleigh Dickinson University; and Christopher Martin, a former civil engineer for Allied Signal and the Morristown Housing Authority, who serves on the town planning board and with numerous civic organizations.
Also recognized were Les Femmes, a social club established by community-minded women in 1948, and the Morristown alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
The event was held at Morristown High School. When Larry Hamm was high-school age, he got appointed to the Newark board of education–becoming the nation’s youngest school board member. He considered the position important enough to postpone attending Princeton, to his parents’ horror.
Larry graduated cum laude in 1978. He became president of the grassroots People’s Organization for Progress and state director of the Million Man March. The flame shows no sign of flickering. His capacity for indignation appears undiminished.
“I just heard a report the other day that we’re at the bottom of the list now in terms of producing doctors. We’re the richest country in the world, but there are other countries producing more doctors. That’s crazy. It’s irrational. We’re sewing the seeds of our own destruction,” he said.
“We can spend trillions of dollars on adventurous foreign wars and we neglect our roads, they’re falling apart, we’ve got bridges falling into rivers without Hurricane Sandy. We have to put the country back on a rational course, because the course we are on now is going to lead to the immiseration of people in this country. The middle class is all but going to disappear, we’re going to be a handful of very rich people–just like the Third World–and everybody else is going to be poor. And who wants that? We can do better than that. Why should we even accept that?”
A little indignation goes a long way, he contends.
“…If people are not aware, if they’re not paying attention, if they’re not politically involved, then those who want to take us in that direction, they have free rein. We are where we were in 1968. Black president notwithstanding. I mean that’s good; I voted for President Obama, I voted for him the second time. But the real issue is this: It’s not enough to simply change the complexion of the people that are in office. The whole object is to change the quality of life, to make people’s lives better. That’s what the object is. Electing people is just the tool to achieve that.”
Our video conversation with Larry is presented in three parts. Here is the playlist:
PART ONE: Barack Obama, Cory Booker, Newark, and student activism at Princeton in the 1970s.
00:09:26 Long way from Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago…
00:50:23 Still long way to go…
1:21: Symbol of hope, Barack Obama…
1:36: Proud of President…
2:00: Obama must focus on poverty…
2:35: Newark better than in ’70s…
3:13: Significant problems remain…
3:52: Newark’s problems are same as other cities…
4:01: US needs urban policy…
4:13: On Cory Booker…
4:57: A black student at Princeton
5:46: Princeton a tough school…
6:37: ‘Others took an interest in me…’
6:46: Advice to black students…
7:30: Expose high schoolers to college early
7:57: Study hard
8:26: Students should be politically aware
8:39: Eighteen-year-olds could turn around country
8:47: College should be free
PART TWO: Meeting Rosa Parks; Malcolm X; Martin Luther King’s inner circle; why MLK had to go
00:09:21: Meeting Rosa Parks
00:38:08: Meeting Coretta Scott King, Abernathy, Young, Jackson
1:54:00: Underestimating Rosa
4:09:14: Miracle Rosa wasn’t killed
4:19:24: What MLK’s inner circle was really like
5:27:24: The lure of Malcolm X and Black Power
6:12:25: Comparing Malcolm X and MLK
8:00:00: MLK Public Enemy No. 1 after opposing Vietnam
8:27:03: ‘We all love MLK now; not so in ’68!’
8:54:01: The pot had to be stirred
9:12:00: Jesus, MLK, and the ultimate sacrifice
10:13:04: Appreciating MLK’s circle
11:13:08: Only human…they didn’t ‘walk around giving speeches’
PART THREE: The back of the train, Newark riots, averting the seeds of our destruction
00:20:12: ‘Move to the back of the train’
01:51:23: Newark riots focus attention on race
02:32:13: Grandfather ‘tails’ of WWII discrimination
03:22:27: First visit with white person
04:32:09: Messages of hope from Newark riots
05:47:05: After Jim Crow, political power was the struggle
06:50:13: Ken Gibson’s election: Dancing in Newark streets
07:13:17: ‘Naivete of an honest heart’
07:46:29: Roots of poverty, racism, economic inequality too deep
07:55:17: Civil Rights movement removed veneer of race
08:18:29: Real roots are economic..today’s challenge
09:03:12: Picking up where MLK left off
09:57:05: Economic Bill of Rights radical idea…MLK ‘had to go’
10:53:00: MLK sought coalition to change society…it got him killed
11:16:09: Without fundamental change, US will be ‘advanced Third World country’
11:31:22: Bottom of industrialized countries…Americans work longer, harder, for less pay
11:54:00: Bottom of list producing doctors
12:06:13: Sewing seeds of our destruction
12:27:28: Must put country back on rational course
12:40:00: Middle class will disappear…
12:54:00: We can do better
12:59:15: Lose focus, and bad guys win
13:11:26: This is like 1968
13:25:28: Real issue not complexion, it’s making lives better