Jean Baptiste Point du Sable stamp art by Thomas Blackshear II. | Courtesy of the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

Morgan Varnado is the first OPRF High School freshman to win the annual Martin Luther King Oratory Contest, which he delivered at an assembly last Friday, Jan. 15.

The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most famous civil rights leaders. His accomplishments with the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) helped promote equality for black Americans. He fought for justice and equality for all individuals, emphasizing that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

In other words without justice for all, no one can truly have justice. King’s message can be found in Stevie Wonder’s “Black Man” from Songs in the Key of Life, which conveys the need for justice among all races while also celebrating diversity. “Black Man” reveals the great feats achieved by many races, it touches on the lack of equity in America, and its main ideology affirms that the world is for all people to enjoy.

Throughout the song, Stevie Wonder sings about accomplishments by many races. In the ninth line when he says, “Guide of a ship, on the first Columbus trip was a brown man.” He is referring Pedro Alonso Niño, born in Spain of African Moorish parents, who guided Christopher Columbus on his journey in 1492. 

All of the feats sung in Stevie Wonder’s song positively affected America but are not taught to most students or recognized in the history books. At the end of the song he transitions to a school setting, where teachers are yelling things like, “Who was the founder of the city of Chicago in 1772?” with students yelling back, “Jean Baptiste, a black man.” 

Unfortunately, most Chicagoans don’t even know anything about Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. Stevie Wonder’s choice of these people, and his use of a classroom setting, hint that American classrooms need to teach the contributions of all the people who have made America, instead of just white people, and correct the imbalance in history books between people of color and people of European descent. As the song suggests, Asian, Black, Native American, Hispanic people and more contributed to making America great. Stevie Wonder exclaims that all types of people should receive recognition in American history.

He also touches on the premise that all people deserve justice. In the chorus he says, “For with justice not for all men, history will repeat again.” He means if everything is not fair for all people, America will end up just like it was in the past. 

Consider Trayvon Martin who was killed by George Zimmerman because Zimmerman thought Trayvon was acting “suspicious” and “up to no good,” all because he had his hood up and was black in a predominantly white community. Zimmerman was not convicted of murder or punished for his actions. 

A similar case in history was the brutal torture and murder of Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The murderers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were never convicted, just like Zimmerman. These cases show that history has repeated itself because we live in an unjust society.

Finally, in the song, Stevie Wonder exclaims that the world was made for all people.

He says in the final line of his chorus, “It’s time we learned this world was made for all men.” This world was made for all people to inhabit, enjoy, and love. Everyone should be able to live their life without the fear of losing their share of the world. Unfortunately, this has not been true throughout time. Manifest Destiny, the common belief in the 19th century held that Americans were destined to take over the rest of the world. This belief justified the killing and the forcing of Native Americans from their homelands and into smaller and more desolate areas of land. Stevie Wonder’s song reminds us of historical injustice and challenges Americans to live up to the doctrines of our founding fathers. The world was made for everyone.

Stevie Wonder’s “Black Man” is the most significant song to celebrate the idea of diversity. It recognizes the contributions of all people, promotes justice for all people, and affirms that the world was made for all people. 

These ideas mirror the ideals that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held throughout his lifetime: That all people, no matter their differences, are equal. It’s a concept that all Americans are capable of understanding, though many just haven’t heard yet, or aren’t willing to hear. 

So Americans as a people must spread the ideas of love, diversity, and equality for all because even though America is closer to these ideals than when Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, we still have a long way to go.

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