I know this will surprise the vast majority of Americans, but Martin Luther King was a person with shifting politics who moved far to the left in his later years. I know, I too am shocked to discover that King said more than one line in one speech on one day in 1963. And here I thought King would have supported whatever the Republican Party policy du jour is. Huh. Anyway, Clyde Ford has a good op-ed on the real King.
We should also turn to another speech by King, often overlooked and infrequently quoted, to cut through the gloss so often imposed on him now. Delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, the speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” discomfited many liberal white supporters, and even those close to him, by taking a firm stance against the Vietnam War, and in support of poor people, including the Viet Cong, the world over.
So much of this speech rings as true today as it did in 1967, and a few lines stick out as prophetic. On technology and greed, King said, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
On alleviating poverty, he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
On hatred, King offered, “We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.”
And on a path forward, King opined, “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”
These are the words of an inconvenient hero speaking to our conditions now. If Americans are to rescue democracy form the clutches of totalitarianism, protect the rights of workers and poor people, and uphold the sanctity of voting, these are the words we must listen to and act upon. This is the King we must hear.
Huh, I’m beginning to think King might not have supported the judicial opinions of Clarence Thomas.