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MLK AND THE POWER
OF MUSIC

In 1967 Dr. King addressed the National Association of TV and Radio Announcers (NATRA) convention in Atlanta. His speech underscored the power of broadcasting—primarily music—to overcome the barriers erected and enforced by racism.

“In a real sense, you have paved the way for social and political change by creating a powerful cultural bridge between black and white,” King declared to the assembly. “School integration is much easier now that they share a common music, a common language, and enjoy the same dances. You introduced youth to that music, created the language of soul and promoted the dance which now sweeps across race, class, and nation.”

The movement for change had gathered extraordinary momentum, and music had played an outsize role in the building of that wave. This was the year of the Summer of Love and Monterey Pop, and across the cultural spectrum were hopeful messages of togetherness and community, as multiethnic support for the Civil Rights Movement grew in tandem with the fight to end the war in Vietnam, a protracted bloodletting that MLK, too, vehemently opposed.

The vaulting optimism of this moment would soon be engulfed in flames, however; the following year saw King gunned down in April and Robert F. Kennedy, another voice for change, killed in June. MLK’s assassination sparked four days of riots in D.C. Worldwide, largely student-led protests—against the war, against discrimination and injustice, against the patriarchy—were met with batons, tear gas and bullets. The mayhem at August’s Democratic convention in Chicago revealed and deepened the fissures in the party and served as a prelude to the backlash and rot of the Nixon presidency, which metastasized as the Watergate fiasco.

Yet King’s words and his extraordinary legacy of oratory, activism and coalition-building remain a framework for positive change in America; each generation of leaders that has succeeded him has endeavored to build on his historic achievements and move us closer to the world he envisioned. That world may seem farther away than it has in a long while, but we fight on.

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