…[AT] some point a difference was created between “equality”, “freedom” and “civil rights”. Those differences were played up because something had to be done about the sudden unity among black folks all over the country. Folks got more media attention whenever they accentuated the differences. There were media-created splinters. Otherwise the civil rights movement would have been enough, and would have been more successful. Accomplishing the aims of the movement would have made “gay rights” and “women’s rights” and “lefts and rights” extraneous.
But divide and conquer was the aim of programmes such as COINTELPRO [the FBI’s covert attempt to infiltrate and disrupt groups deemed “subversive”]. And even though it ended up working damn near backward, it worked. They separated the fingers on the hand and gave each group a different demand; we lost our way. Separated, none of us seemed to know to watch out for COINTELPRO. J Edgar Hoover was dead, but in DC they honoured what he had said: fuck every one-a-them.
There I was at the halftime show [of the Hotter than July Tour at the Washington Mall on January 15th, 1981], looking up and down the field, and I could see for the first time. I could see what this brother had seen long before, what really needed to be done.
We all took the stage. The crowd continued to chant: “Martin Luther King Day, we took a holiday!” Stevie stepped up to the mic and addressed them: “It’s fitting,” he said, “that we should gather here, for it was here that Martin Luther King inspired the entire nation and the world with his stirring words, his great vision both challenging and inspiring us with his great dream. People have asked, ‘Why Stevie Wonder, as an artist?’ Why should I be involved in this great cause? I’m Stevie Wonder the artist, yes, but I’m Steveland Morris, a man, a citizen of this country, and a human being. As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us. I’d like to ask all of you just for one moment, if you will, to be silent and just to think and hear in your mind the voice of our Dr Martin Luther King …”
Somehow, years later, it seems that Stevie’s effort as the leader of this campaign has been forgotten. But it is something that we should all remember. Just as surely as we should remember 4 April 1968, we should celebrate 15 January. And we should not forget that Stevie remembered.
As Stevie sang on Happy Birthday:
We all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing