(Updated from a post that originally appeared Jan. 20, 2013)
This MLK day, as in years prior, people all over the country will learn that Martin Luther King, Jr. “had a dream” that black children and white children would one day play and go to school together without having to call National Guard to protect them from the red-blooded American conservatives who can’t deal with, among many things, non-white people and/or progress. With the election of our first black President, surely, we are told, King’s dream is now a reality… so much so, that we can can now congratulate ourselves on our evolution by adding a made-in-China MLK statue to the National Mall. Tragically, among the many myths we’re told in America, it’s no surprise that MLK has undergone the standard whitewash from which he’s been transformed from an anti-militarism revolutionary for social and economic justice into an orator who pondered, Rodney King-style platitudes about “why can’t we all just get along?”
Keeping with the whitewashed image, on King’s national holiday, most so-called “representatives” from sea to shining sea will give their standard speeches meant to, not rally us to change the structures that create poverty for the many and affluence for the few, but convince us that the status quo is working. This year, though, some are highlighting King’s call for the need for economic and social justice. For example, Sen. Ed Markey asked at Boston’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, “What would Dr. King say about those in Congress that vote to deny unemployment insurance even as they delay investing in new jobs?”
Joan Walsh wrote in a piece for Salon titled, The radical MLK we need today, “Rather than remembering King solely as a civil rights leader, we must reclaim him as a radical advocate of economic justice, looking to lead a multiracial movement of poor people to complete the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. As King put it plainly, ‘What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?’ Post-integration, too many black people couldn’t sit down at integrated lunch counters and buy a hamburger; 50 years later, too many people of every race have the same problem.
Yet, conservatives insist that we now live in a “post-racial” nation. Laughably, the Republican National Committee even recently tweeted praise to civil rights icon Rosa Parks for “her role in ending racism.” The “divide and conquer” strategy conservatives utilize against the working class depends on people believing that racism is a thing of the past and structures put in place to remedy inequality are equally archaic. Therefore, people should not grumble when conservatives dismantle them.
The right wing Supreme Court killing part of the voting rights act is just one recent example of conservatives attacking the structures meant to create “a more perfect union.” According to Chief Justice John Roberts, “our country has changed.” Never mind that it changed as a result of things like… um… the Voting Rights Act!
King said himself, “The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both white and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.”
Let’s remember that the major “sin” that Shirley Sherrod committed in her 2010 speech to the NAACP was that she detailed her awakening to fact that real struggle was not “white versus black” but “rich versus poor.” Hence, the right-wing propagandists went to work editing her remarks so that her message of economic equality was replaced with the one where the conservative agenda of fomenting racial division was served.
Far from criticizing our broken system, conservatives of both parties have a vested interest in propagating King’s “dream” as simply the wish that, “men,” “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This is a more palatable phrase the corporate-sponsored government can regularly regurgitate for the masses to swallow, while easily neglecting threats to corporate power like King’s call for “a national responsibility to provide work for all”, “the right of every citizen to a minimum income” and “the right to an adequate education.” (Read more about that in Aviva Shen’s article for ThinkProgress 4 Ways Martin Luther King Was More Radical Than You Thought)
WATCH: Georgetown University’s Christopher Chambers discusses the whitewashing of King’s message:
The sad truth is that income inequality is higher now than when Dr. King died in 1968 and the working class is worse off now than when King organized his first “Poor People’s Campaign,” in which he meant to confront the issues of jobs, income and housing.
Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Director of the NAACP Economic Department and Nicole Kenney, NAACP Economic Program Specialist posted at the NAACP website,
“Dr. King states, ‘There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.’ We are currently funding three unpopular wars that, like the Vietnam War, are diverting a significant amount of dollars that could be used to aggressively combat poverty and provide opportunities to reclaim the American Dream. It is simply a matter of priorities. Therefore, in the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy, let us reevaluate our country’s commitment to the groups Dr. King sacrificed his life to protect- the economically vulnerable and recognize that advancing a strong middle class economy must have progressive policy as the center of the struggle (e.g., social safety net, government investment in opportunity and equity, and progressive taxation on the wealthiest of Americans). Let’s not commemorate Dr. King’s memorial without recommitting ourselves to fulfilling the vision he and so many brave men and women fought for – economic justice for all.”
King said, “We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.” Then, as it is now, ensuring that society works for ALL is the highest form of patriotism.
Eugene Robinson wrote on the unveiling of the made-in-China MLK statue in Washington,
“As the nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a stirring new memorial on the National Mall, let’s not obscure one of his most important messages in a fog of sentiment. Justice, he told us, is not just a legal or moral question but a matter of economics as well.
In this sense, we’re not advancing toward the fulfillment of King’s dream. We’re heading in the opposite direction.
Aug. 28, the day organizers chose for the dedication of the King memorial (the ceremony was postponed because of Hurricane Irene), is the anniversary of the 1963 march and rally at which King delivered the indelible “I Have a Dream” speech. That event was officially called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Meaningful employment was a front-and-center demand.
The idea and impetus for the march came from A. Philip Randolph, one of the most important labor leaders in the nation’s history. Randolph founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that demanded and won decent pay and better working conditions for thousands of railroad employees, most of them African-American. By 1963, Randolph had become a vice president of the AFL-CIO labor federation.
King and his fellow civil rights leaders understood the importance of good jobs that paid a living wage — and the social and economic mobility such jobs provide — in forging a nation that honors its promise of fairness and equality. If he and Randolph were alive today, given the devastating blows that poor and working-class Americans have suffered, I’m confident they’d be planning a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom II.”
As an African-American old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation in the South, I’m amazed at the progress toward racial justice. We’re not all the way there yet, but we’re light-years from where we started. King was a passionate advocate for economic justice, speaking not just for African-Americans but for all Americans seeking to pull themselves out of poverty and dysfunction. On this score, we haven’t just failed to make sufficient progress. We’ve stopped trying.
With unemployment above 9 percent, what task absorbs our elected leaders? Certainly not an urgent search for ways to put people back to work. Instead, we’re obsessed with deficit-reduction measures that, if applied in the short term, would destroy jobs rather than create them.
In 2010, the median weekly pay of a male worker over 25 who belonged to a union was $982, according to the BLS. The comparable figure for a worker not represented by a union was $846. King was assassinated in Memphis, where he was supporting the demands of sanitation workers for more pay, better working conditions and the right to unionize.”
But our corrupt, kiss up/kick down system depends on revisionist history to survive. In addition to neglecting the entirety of his message, you may remember the poor, desperate Republicans posting a billboard stating “Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican,” and you may have actually encountered their “average Joe” dupes (and corporate-sponsored pay-per-post sock puppets) posting that lie all over the web. In reality, everything MLK stood for, CONservatives OPPOSE – social justice, economic justice, justice for the poor, pro-union, anti-militarism. MLK also made a point to not align themselves with ANY political party so as not to muddy the mission of his causes… thus, Republicans are exploiting King’s legacy in death, as they opposed his causes in life.
“Martin Luther King was sympathetic to the Republicans in his youth because Republicans were the party of Lincoln, even right up until 1960, in that Kennedy election.”
But King’s father’s own allegiance to the Republican party ended in 1960, when his son was jailed in a Georgia prison after being arrested for trespassing during a sit-in. King Sr. sought the help of John F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate who was only a lukewarm supporter of civil rights, to get his son released.
The Kennedys succeeded and after the civil rights leader was freed, the elder King promised to deliver 10 million votes to Kennedy.
“And he did it in a way that embarrassed Dr. King,” Branch said. “Dr. King always loved his father but was always embarrassed by him. He was pretty crass and course. And he stood right up, Daddy King did, in a public rally and said ‘I was planning to support Nixon, I’ve been a life-long Republican, and I didn’t like Kennedy because he’s a Catholic, but now that he’s got my boy out of jail, I’ve got a whole suitcase full of votes and I’m going to go to Washington and dump them in his lap.’”
Barry Goldwater was the other game-changer, Branch said.
“The modern Southern Republican party sprang up instantly when Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, opposed the civil rights bill in the summer of ’64,” Branch said. “And that’s when you first started getting moderate Republican candidates in the South, in the Newt Gingrich school. It was created overnight.”
Branch continued: “The two parties reversed roles, at least in the South, in his lifetime, and most people aren’t aware of that and it sounds like this group (the Raging Elephants) is playing on people’s ignorance of that to try and create a false impression.”
King was never about partisanship, Branch said.
Read the rest of that article here.
In 2007, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon wrote an amazing essay for Truthout on the subject of revisionist history of MLK:
The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or [the right] to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” – including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.
“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall US foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 – a year to the day before he was murdered – King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (Full text/audio here.)
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the US was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the US was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.
In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”
You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 – and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington – engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be – until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”
King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
How familiar that sounds today, nearly 40 years after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
In 2007, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and most in Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. They fund foreign wars with “alacrity and generosity,” while being miserly in dispensing funds for education and health care and environmental cleanup.
And those priorities are largely unquestioned by mainstream media. No surprise that they tell us so little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life.
MLK’S Beyond Vietnam Speech:
- White Nationalists Throw Hate “Business Cards” at Black Woman - November 6, 2018
- Supposed Persecuted Trump supporter Scams Cons Out of $150,000 - November 5, 2018
- In 3 A.M. Tweet, Trump Complains he’s the Real Victim of Mail Bombs - October 26, 2018
- Melania Trump Claims She’s ‘The Most Bullied Person in the World’ and the Internet Groans - October 11, 2018
- Right Wingers Help Completely False Kremlin-Made Propaganda Video Go Viral - October 9, 2018
- Historian: Mitch McConnell is the “Gravedigger of American Democracy” - October 5, 2018
- Donald Trump Tried To Trick His Elderly Father Into Changing His Will - October 4, 2018
- Survey: Trump Surpasses ‘Terrorism’ as Germans’ Greatest Fear - September 6, 2018
- Ron DeSantis Moderated Racist Facebook Group That Attacks Minorities, Parkland Survivors - August 30, 2018
- Architect: Betsy DeVos’ Ostentatious McMansion Sucks - August 8, 2018