Remembering Dr. King

On this day, we honor the late, great Dr. King. In Philadelphia, thousands upon thousands of people will work in their community in his honor.

I think our generation probably needs a little bit of a re-education on the life of Dr. King. He has become, 40 years after his death, largely a sainted, almost Disney-like historical figure. The one who had a dream, and wanted us all to live together in peace. Hell, in a total perversion of his legacy, right-wing figures actually use his speeches to attack programs such as affirmative action.

The reality is that although we are rarely taught it these days, to his death, Dr. King was a progressive radical. And, while the movement, and his soaring rhetoric of the I Have a Dream speech may have helped push the country to the Civil Rights Act, King knew that there was so much left to do, and in some ways, that the Country was actually backsliding.

He pushed on, relentlessly pushing for an end to poverty, and for an end to war. But the Disney-like history of "I Have a Dream" doesn't really mention that post-1964, many people dismissed Dr. King, and his c-r-r-razy poor people's campaign.

As Cesar Chavez remembered:

Many people find it convenient to forget that Martin was murdered while supporting a desperate strike on that tragic day in Memphis, Tennessee. He died while fighting for the rights of sanitation workers.

Dr. King's dedication to the rights of the workers who are so often exploited by the forces of greed has profoundly touched my life and guided my struggle.

During my first fast in 1968, Dr. King reminded me that our struggle was his struggle too. He sent me a telegram which said "Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity."

I was profoundly moved that someone facing such a tremendous struggle himself would take the time to worry about a struggle taking place on the other side of the continent.

Just as Dr. King was a disciple of Ghandi and Christ, we must now be Dr. King's disciples.

Dr. King challenged us to work for a greater humanity. I only hope that we are worthy of his challenge.

Or, there is Dr. King's sermon on why we needed to exit Vietnam:

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support and all the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy..... This is a role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible but refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investments. I'm convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual 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, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

We should remember the "I Have a Dream" Speech and that soaring rhetoric, but we must also ignore the Disney-fication of Dr. King, and remember what he knew of the fight that remained ahead.

Dan, your comments about the

Dan, your comments about the Disney-fication of Dr. King ring true. And, perhaps it is because the movements he took on after the Civil Rights movement, i.e. work in the slums of Chicago, stance against Vietnam and for poor folk are (or were) unpopular that our media and history books contain a relatively undetailed account of his post-civil rights work.

I like the un-Disney-fied Dr. King. Since I was a little boy, Dr. King has been one of the people I have looked up to and would call a "heros", including Alexander Hamilton, Giuseppe Garibaldi and, even though he isn't real, King Arthur (as a kid, I had a very active imagination). Since I have become an adult, the imperfections of each of these individuals (and legends) have only served to solidify their status in my mind as having traits I should aspire to.

Thank you for writing this.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Syndicate content