Tavis: As we’ve mentioned, this is the 25th anniversary of the national holiday honoring Dr. King, and among the many high-profile people who fought to gain this historic milestone, Stevie Wonder.
Recently, I asked the music icon to share his thoughts about this day and his role in its creation.
Stevie Wonder: Well, I think that more people are celebrating the King holiday, and that’s a wonderful thing, but I think that again, people have to get beyond the place of color, because when Dr. King was marching in the various places for civil, social, economic justice, it wasn’t just Dr. King, Martin Luther King Jr. and Black people.
There were whites; there were people of various ethnicities there, because the reality is it’s about justice for everyone. That is what encouraged and inspired me in those years that I would go and have the marches, and even before that, when it was a holiday in the state of Michigan but not throughout the country.
I just believed that he really represented the fabric of what this country and the Constitution talks about, and I just think that we can’t just talk about it, we’ve got to be about it.
I think that listen, don’t think that I’m perfect, because I’m not even going to take that, because I’m not – no one is. For us as Christians, we say the only perfect one was Jesus Christ. But I’m just saying we all are working on trying to do the best that we can do, but he represented to me that essence, that place.
So I think that everywhere throughout the nation should close down and reflect and find out how and what they can do to make this country better, greater, stronger, more united, and I just think that’s what we need to do and get beyond this color thing. Maybe y’all need to go blind or something, I don’t know. (Laughter)
Tavis: Tell me anything you want to tell me about the song, the happy birthday song. Now, as you know, you wrote that song. We first heard the song in connection to celebrating Dr. King’s birthday and the holiday, and now you can’t get three Negroes together nowhere on somebody’s birthday without singing “Happy Birthday” the Stevie Wonder way.
Wonder: Why are you saying just Negroes? (Laughter) My knee doesn’t grow.
Tavis: Talk about that song. How did that come to you?
Wonder: No, come on, I think that it’s not just for African American people, it’s for everyone, and I’m happy that everyone sings it. The way that I came up with it was I was actually – I had a dream, very similar –
Tavis: Whoa, whoa, you had a dream, too? (Laughter)
Wonder: I had a dream I wrote a song. (Laughter) Want to hear it? Here it goes.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Wonder: No, that song, and (plays music) – God, that’s the wrong, hold (mumbles). (Plays music) You know who that is?
Tavis: Oh, Lord, yeah.
Wonder: That song, “Rocket Love,” and “Happy Birthday” were the two songs that I wrote in my dream, and I said to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, I said, “I have a song that I’m hoping that I can someday do a march and put this song out for us to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.” And she said, “I’m very happy you feel that way, but I don’t think that it’s going to happen under this administration.” I said, “Oh, yes, it will.”
Tavis: This was during the Reagan years.
Wonder: Yeah. I said, “Oh, I really believe it will.” And I said, “It will because there’ll be something – out of everything, people will think, okay, what can we do?” And even if they saw it a little differently than I imagined it as being why, I felt that song would be sort of a calling message to everyone to hear the words and to look at it and reflect on what his principles meant to them and pull everyone together to sing it and celebrate it.
Because really, it’s for the oneness of all people. So I think that we think of Dr. King, we think of what he went trough, I would hear his speeches, I would get emotional, I would cry. I would say, “Wow, I’m believing this man. I’m feeling this.” I was, like, maybe seven or eight years old, I would hear him speak, and I mean, wow.
I didn’t understand why there were things happening to people that were Black versus other people, and I didn’t really get all that, the whole thing. So my thing, really, when I began to understand it, was really of people being in a place of fear.
Think about it – if Africa was the beginning of all civilization, which we know that it is, where civilization began, then everyone here is Black. We’re all related. So whether it be someone that’s white or whatever color, it’s just a member of the family. That’s the way I see it.
Tavis: Stevie Wonder with his thoughts on this 25th anniversary of the King holiday.
Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” In that spirit, the King holiday is now known as a day of service around this country, a day when people from all walks of life come together to help make their communities a better place to live and work.
A fitting way to honor the man that I regard as the greatest American this country has ever produced.
That’s our show for tonight.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.