Alice Walker gave this speech in 1972 at a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi. Up until a few years prior, this particular restaurant refused to serve African-Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement changed that, and Alice Walker delivered this speech in celebration of those accomplishments.
Walker tells the story of her Southern roots. Her father’s great-great-grandmother was forced to walk to Eatonton, Georgia all the way from Virginia as a slave. Her mother’s people had been brought there before that. Although Walker was taught to love the land generations of her people loved, farmed, and were buried there, she was also taught that it was essential to leave Georgia to escape the evils of defeating racism and poverty if possible. As expected, Walker’s older siblings left one by one for a better life in the North.
Walker and her mother watched the civil rights movement unfold on television. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first emerged on the scene as a great and humble leader with a great philosophy and plan for action, Walker and her mother found new hope for the South.
Walker’s mother and countless others prayed for Dr. King’s safety every day.
To them, he was like Jesus himself come back to earth to set the world right again. King inspired Walker’s own life full of social protest, but more importantly, he helped Black Southerners feel a new reason to stay and reclaim the land they loved as somewhere they wanted to stay.
Dr. King didn’t just advocate for Black Civil Rights, but for the rights of all America’s oppressed peoples. However, for all of Dr. King’s innumerable accomplishments and awards, many libraries do not carry copies of his recorded speeches. For Walker, this means that the fight is not over yet.
Fortunately and most importantly to Walker, Dr. King inspired a whole generation of Southern African-Americans to reclaim the South as their own. The South is no longer a hotbed of lawful discrimination, as proved by the restaurant in which Walker is speaking. And Dr. King inspired Walker to come back to the South after her Northern journey was over, and reclaim the heritage she loves.