national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
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 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 U.S. 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."
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. 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, more than a quarter-century after King's efforts on behalf of the poor people's mobilization were cut short by an assassin's bullet.
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Martin Luther King Jr.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Mon 17 Jan, 2011 10:07 am
Thanks for that post and for this thread, edgar. I seem to remember you doing something like this every year for several years back.
What you say about media leaving alone his more controversial stances is something I think of every time I see the so-called 'tributes' this time of year. They timidly trot out the same sanitized snippets of speeches and caricature the man in ways that can be co-opted by those with whose politics and ideals Dr King would not agree.
When Eric Holder called America cowardly about race; when Michael Moore challenges capitalism's flaws; and yes - even when pariahs like Jeremiah Wright reminded us of the atrocities that American armies and covert forces have commited in our name, these things too are in the spirit of Dr King. These things never get spoken of - Dr King's insistence on speaking uncomfortable truths to power. That's why he had to die - not because of the "dream" of social equality that seems to be all we ever hear about.
It's also discomfiting that the "dream" seems to me to be trumpeted loudest by those who want to believe that it has already been realized, and whose "tributes" frame it as something already accomplished.
As long as judicial and economic injustice along racial lines and gender lines and sexual preference lines prevail, there is still some of the dream being deferred.
Thanks, letty. I should have read the thread over. I had already posted Walks of Peace. Oh, well. It's the sincerity that counts.
Mon 21 Jan, 2013 06:27 am
I have done a number of threads dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., but this one is my favorite.
Mon 21 Jan, 2013 08:48 pm
By Carolyn Kellogg
January 21, 2013, 1:08 p.m.
Today the nation honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr., the reverend and activist who led the American civil rights movement. As King studied nonviolence as practiced by Gandhi and imagined by Henry David Thoreau, now his own life and work are the subject of study. Here are 12 essential reads about the short life of King, who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39.
"The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement" (2013), "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63" (1986), "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965" (1998), and "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68" (2006), all by Taylor Branch. Branch's latest book on King, published last month, is a condensed, highlight-heavy sampling of his award-winning trilogy about King. The first book, "Parting the Waters," was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1987, and the two following books were also highly praised. Totaling almost 3,000 pages, Branch's exhaustive trilogy provides a deep look into King's life.
"Martin Luther King Jr.: A Life" (2002) by Marshall Frady. For those who might want a less voluminous introduction to King, Frady's slender volume, part of the Penguin Lives biography series, provides a lively overview of King's life and work.
"Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference" (1986) by David J. Garrow. Garrow's 1981 book "The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr." publicly explicated the surveillance the FBI conducted of King, but it was 1986's "Bearing the Cross" that is considered a more significant book. Researching it, Garrow interviewed more than 700 people, and went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.
"Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." (2001) by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier. For children ages 5 and up, this picture book biography was awarded a Caldecott Honor and is an accessible introduction to King.
"My Life With Martin Luther King Jr." (1994) by Coretta Scott King. The 1994 edition of King's personal 1969 memoir was reframed for high school students, with updated language.
"The Martin Luther King, Jr., Encyclopedia" (rev. 2008) by Clayborne Carson, Tenisha Armstrong, Susan Carson, Erin Cook, and Susan Englander. History professor Clayborne Carson leads the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University and has produced six volumes of King's written work, papers, letters and speeches. This encyclopedia, aimed at students grade 10 and up, is an entry into King's life and work.
"Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941-1963" and "Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963-1973" anthologies by the Library of America. These anthologies show the world King entered, the challenges the civil rights movement faced and what the cost of its victories were, up close. Authors include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Charlayne Hunter, John Hersey, Joan Didion, Gordon Parks and Earl Caldwell, the only reporter to witness the assassination of King.
"Martin Luther King Jr.: The Essential Box Set: The Landmark Speeches and Sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr." (2009) This 15-hour-long audiobook includes recordings of King's significant speeches, showing off his gifts as an orator, with additional narration by colleagues and scholars placing them in context.