Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968

A day late, I know, but better late than never.

Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor and organized the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of US foreign policy and the Vietnam War.

In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967, a year-to-the-day before he was assassinated, Dr. King called the United States, quote, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Time magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post said King, quote, “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”


Since I moved into the deep South, I've been hearing a weird idea that Martin Luther King Day is some kind of holiday for black people. I don't understand it. I mean okay, I get that this is a white people idea, the idea that MLK Day is just for African-Americans, but in order to think such a thing, one has to completely dismiss the notion that ending American apartheid was good for the entire nation, and such a dismissal stinks of nostalgia for the days of segregation and Jim Crow.

I, for one, in contrast to what appears to be many of my white brothers and sisters here in the South, claim Dr. King's legacy for myself. He, along with thousands of unsung heroes who fought for civil rights out in the streets, pushed the American white power structure to do the right thing. The whole country owes him and the movement whose ideals he so well articulated an enormous debt.

But the MLK I really dig is the one who took a turn toward the radical late in life, the man who began to realize that racism doesn't exist in an ideological vacuum, that oppressing people because of the color of their skin cannot be separated from oppression in the more general sense. I'm convinced that's why he was finally assassinated. It's as though the power elite was okay with him saying nice things about black and white kids holding hands, but going after war and capitalism drove them nuts. You won't hear much about that Martin Luther King on the news or on PBS or in the schools because that same power elite continues to call all the shots today.

At any rate, if you want to know more about the radicalized Dr. King, check out
this Democracy Now episode.