What will Clarence say? MLK’s speechwriter, close friend to deliver Pride keynoteTop Highlights Thursday, July 19th, 2012
2012 Keynote Speaker, Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Martin Luther King Jr.'s speechwriter
When the man who wrote some of the most memorable and important words ever spoken in the history of the English language has something to say; when Dr. Clarence Jones, speechwriter for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has something to say; people’s ears tend to perk up.
Expect thousands of perked-up ears and as many stirred spirits when 2012 Spirit of Stonewall Rally keynote speaker, Clarence Jones sets the official tone for this year’s Pride events with a speech especially crafted for this event and for this generation of LGBT Americans.
“He had an event at the Bishop School,” explained San Diego Pride board member, Dion Brown, who helped facilitate Clarence Jones’ appearance as this year’s keynote speaker. “He was there talking about his work behind the scenes of the 1963 March on Washington with people like Bayard Rustin. After his talk, Dr. Jones and the moderator were sitting on the stage, and he took questions, but I kept getting overlooked.”
Finally, chosen as the last questioner, Brown presented his inquiry.
“I asked him what Dr. King’s stance was on LGBT rights and where he would stand on the subject of same-sex marriage,” Brown told San Diego LGBT Weekly. “Dr. Jones gave an incredibly eloquent answer.”
According to Brown, Clarence Jones response, which was favorable to LGBT rights and marriage equality, was so eloquent that it changed hearts and minds in the audience that day.
“During the half hour that I waited in line to shake hands with Dr. Jones after the event, several people came up to me and told me that they had changed their minds and become supporters of same-sex marriage,” Brown said.
Dr. Jones shared a preview of that speech and some memories of Dr. King, as well as a few comparisons of the early civil rights movement, which cracked open the door to the possibility of an African American president of the United States of America, to that of LGBT equality.
“One of the things I say in the speech I will deliver Saturday about the LGBT community,” said Jones. “… is that your indefatigable efforts to challenge our nation to reclaim its soul for the sake of fairness and respect for the sacredness of individual rights and personal freedoms has been no less, and is no less, extraordinary as the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 20th century, which enabled America to reclaim its soul and to end racial segregation.”
Although he demurs at the suggestion, there’s no doubt that Jones must have devised many of the enshrined phrases uttered so eloquently by Dr. King as he led African Americans and the American people out of the darkness of segregation. One hears a familiar tone in the former’s current parlance as he explains the potential power of speech to change the world for the better.
“I say certain things about fairness and equality to my friends and colleagues in the African American church community that aren’t always that popular,” Jones said. “I had to publicly criticize the African American church community for its opposition to gay rights. I had to do this because we, who are the leaders of the straight community, owe a debt of gratitude to you, our LGBT colleagues. As Dr. King would say; all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
In fact, Clarence Jones was already bucking a widely accepted notion that it would be next to impossible to change the minds of African American religious leaders and their older, more traditionally minded, congregants about what he sees as the fundamental right to marriage for same-sex couples, even before President Barack Obama disclosed his personal evolution to that same belief.
Jones’ demonstrations of willingness to stick his neck out on behalf of the LGBT community led to his being asked to deliver the keynote address at the 35th anniversary observance of the assassination of Harvey Milk, by the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in San Francisco. That engagement, and his persuasive words of support for LGBT rights at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, led ultimately to Dion Brown and fellow Pride board member, Ebony Aldridge asking Dr. Jones to deliver the keynote at San Diego Pride this weekend.
Fortuitously for San Diegans and Pride visitors, Jones accepted. San Diego LGBT Weekly is at once humbled by and proud to accept the opportunity to sponsor Dr. Jones’ address at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the intersection of Harvey Milk Street (formerly Blaine Avenue) and Normal Street in the heart of Hillcrest.
Clarence Jones acted as an attorney to Martin Luther King Jr. during a 1960 tax case brought by the government, which ended in King’s favor. Jones was King’s lead draft speechwriter, professional counsel and close personal friend. It was Jones who advised Dr. King to weigh in with a message about peace to President John F. Kennedy during the pivotal Cuban missile crisis, according to Wikipedia. After King’s assassination, Jones worked in corporate law as well as continuing to serve in civil rights advocacy positions and in academia. He is the resident scholar at the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute at Stanford University, and author of two books about his time with the legendary civil rights icon; What Would Martin Say? (HarperCollins, 2008) and Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011).
Asked what Dr. King would say to President Obama if he could offer the president only one piece of advice, Jones answered, “Stay the course. Be guided by what is morally right, not what is politically expedient. In the end, it is that by which you will be judged.”
Asked what advice he would offer a young LGBT American, setting out to make her or his way in the world today, Dr. Jones, said, “To be gay in America and have a sense of survival, you have to develop a mindset, if you’ll allow me to use street vernacular, that I’m the baddest mother fucker there is; I have a sense of my own pride; and I demand to be respected.”
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