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Morning Song – The Ballad Of Martin Luther King

January 16, 2017

Singer-songwriter Mike Millius wrote “The Ballad Of Martin Luther King” immediately after Dr. King’s assassination; and you’re going to want to listen to this version of it right up to the final three words.

That’s “Brother Kirk” singing (and Pete Seeger plucking on his trusty five-string banjo) on Sesame Street, and fulfilling all the worst fears of reactionaries across the nation about the insidious influence of public television on the minds of impressionable young children. Kirk could sing a song so that—depending on your point of view—you’d be ready to face down a battalion of armed soldiers, or you’d be reduced to a quivering mass of jelly at this man who was so obviously not afraid of you and your kind (looking at you, Mr. President-elect).

The Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick was an imposing man, standing 6′ 4″, weighing about 240 pounds, and carrying himself with all the dignity and power of the man for whom he was named. He was a fearsome defensive end at Grambling and might have had a pro football career if he hadn’t wracked up his knee.

Along with Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas, Kirkpatrick founded the Deacons For Defense & Justice in Jonesboro, LA in the fall of 1964. The Deacons were an armed self-defense force that spread across the rural Deep South, where there were no TV cameras recording the depredations of the Klan against civil rights workers, their communities and their families.

After serving as director of folk culture for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Brother Kirk made his way to New York City where, among other things, he carved out a career as an educator/rabble-rouser, using music to teach Black history in general, and the history of the Civil Rights Movement in particular.

“I’ve been to the mountaintop; today I have a dream;

Don’t you ever forget the words of Martin Luther King.”

Happy King Day.

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