NEW ORLEANS – Charles Steele Jr., president of Dr. Martin Luther King's old organization, said the slain civil rights leader left behind a "business plan" for Black economic success.
Opening the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) 50th convention here, Steele said: "If you listen closely to his last speech at Mason Temple [in Memphis], Dr. King was giving us a business plan. Dr. King was taking care of business. If you have taken the most elementary business course -- and even if you haven't -- you know that the first thing you need when you go into business is a business plan."
The SCLC president mentioned the early struggles of the founder of Radio One and TV One media companies.
"Cathy Hughes talks about starting out in business and being asked, 'What is your business plan?' Her reply: 'I plan to stay in business.' SCLC plans the stay in business.
"Our business plan is straight out of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. No, it's not about a dream, it's about economics. The part of the speech that you don't hear repeated every year around his birthday is the section related to economics. He declared, 'America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"
Steele said, "We're back here, where SCLC was founded, to say that we came back to get the check. Dr. King said 45 years ago, that America did not have enough funds in its bank account. They gave us a bad check. And today, we're back for a good one. If you can't give us a check, we'll take cash. But with your record, we need cash – and two forms of ID. We probably should ask for a DNA test as well."
Speaking at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in suburban Kenner, La., Steele said: "Nearly five years after announcing we got stuck with a bad check, Dr. King went to Memphis to outline a business plan, not just a plan to stay in business.
"Dr. King explained: 'We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, 'God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda—fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.'
Steele urged, "Note the emphasis on 'withdrawing economic support.' Now, for those who still did not get it, he was blunt: '…We've got to strengthen our Black institutions,' he said. 'I call upon you to take your money out of the [White] banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a bank-in movement in Memphis… We have six or seven Black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an 'insurance-in.'
"Dr. King was clear: 'We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts.' If you still didn't get it, Dr. King explained it this way: 'Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.'"
Steele said it is even more important that Blacks learn to support other Blacks.
"By 2011, annual Black spending power will reach $1.1 trillion, representing almost nine cents of every dollar spent in the United States, according to a University of Georgia study. Still, nothing leaves the Black community faster than a dollar."
Steele noted that Dr. King, winner of the Nobel Peace prize, was an international figure when he was assassinated 40 years ago. Continuing in King's footsteps, Steele said SCLC will continue establishing conflict resolution centers around the world in hopes of bringing about peace.
"These are exciting times. I wish Dr. King was alive to see the response to Barack Obama in Europe," Steele said. "People want change and that was evident in Europe as 200,000 people shouted, 'Yes, we can' in Germany.
"And when Obama got to Paris and London, he was being treated like a rock star. The closest McCain got to Germany was eating in a small German restaurant."
Steele said it would be a mistake to think Obama's popularity is limited to the fact that he is an African-American.
"The world is embracing more than just Barack Obama; it's embracing a new kind of openness. Thousands applaud because Obama says he wants the U.S. to be a partner and not just try to dictate to other countries. It is a relationship of equals that they embrace."