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On MLK Day

[ 27 ] January 16, 2012 |

We should perhaps celebrate the real MLK, as opposed to the complacent defender of purely formal equality that conservatives would prefer to imagine him as:

At the end of his all too short life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to realize that the full meaning of the black freedom struggle was not just the achievement of a cup of coffee at an integrated restaurant, or riding in the front seat of a city bus. The “dream deferred,” in poet Langston Hughes’s words, was America’s failure to address poverty, from Harlem to Appalachia, from Indian reservations to the barrio of East Los Angeles. Striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, who were fighting for decent wages, represented the dream deferred. The dream deferred was personified by millions of Americans without adequate housing and health care. Like brother Malcolm X before him, Martin moved from a civil rights agenda, to a human rights agenda. His vision for racial justice had also become a vision of social justice, full human equality, and economic fairness for all. This was the dream deferred beyond considerations of race and color; his dream of economic democracy was not simplistically black vs. white, it was fundamentally about “the haves” vs. “the have nots.”

What has become of King’s dream deferred? As the events that defined the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, our vision of their significance, grown distant in time, can easily become distorted. Historical memory is always selective. But it is truly ironic; nevertheless, that those conservative political forces that opposed what Martin believed in, and gave his life to achieve, are now saying that he was one of them all along.

Admittedly. as Marable said, MLK did oppose some forms of affirmative action — such as the kinds that benefited George W. Bush.   The far more pervasive kind we’re now supposed to forget about.

…see also.


Comments (27)

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  1. c u n d gulag says:

    His enemies were willing to concede some things on Civil Rights and civic justice.

    It was his turning on Vietnam and the Military Industrial Complex, and his search for economic justice that got him killed.

    The powers-that-be will let you vote, but don’t fuck around with their money.

    They don’t care if you’re black, or white, or yellow, or red. You don’t fuck around with their money. Capice?

  2. DrDick says:

    Were he alive today, he would still be marching for social justice in places like Indiana and Wisconsin. Like the prophet he served, King stood with the poor and oppressed everywhere.

  3. Nathan Willard says:

    I was using King’s Paul’s Letter to American Christians sermon for Sunday School yesterday, and in the 1956 version here, he’s talking about the injustice of the american capitalist system, with the top .1% holding >50% of the countries wealth (in the version published in Strength to Love in 1963, that’s been amended to 40%). Right up front. More than a decade before that April morning.

  4. Joseph Slater says:

    Esepcially after all the hysteria directed toward public workers and their unions last year, it’s very good to remember exactly why King was in Memphis.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Martin Luther King and the fate of the civil rights movement

    At a meeting of his staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Council, King said that the reforms of the early 1960s were “limited mainly to the Negro middle class,” and that it was necessary to address the conditions of working people. “We are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism,” he said. “There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

    <emIn his courageous public denunciation of the war in Vietnam, King said, “We are criminals in that war” and “have committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world.” He also branded the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

  6. […] over themselves trying to co-opt what King fought for as somehow consistent with their own views -often minimizing the civil rights leader’s agenda as one of strictly formal equality, with indifference to both concerns of equity and justice- while attempting to ignore or obscure […]

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