Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. King-The Radical

Forty years ago today Dr. King died in Memphis after being shot on a motel balcony. Twice a year, on his birthday celebration and on the anniversary of his death we pause to look at this man and his accomplishments and do the obligatory connecting of the dots from his era to the present. We sing "We Shall Overcome" and talk about how brave he was and marvel at his oratory skills. A great American.

But we don't celebrate his full legacy. The last years, a gift of perhaps his most profound perceptions for America's future, have been ignored and forgotten both in our celebrations and in the minds of Americans.

But, the Martin Luther King I remember in his last few years was more than a civil rights activist, dreamer and preacher. He was a dissenter, a revolutionary, a rebel.
Dr. King decided he must “move beyond the prophesying of a smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent.”

In about 1965, he began an analysis of American institutions that threatened to upset the status quo. Dr. King began to call for “a radical revolution of values” in the United States. This is the Dr. King never mentioned in our January and April remembrances. We only celebrate the sanitized image, the champion of racial harmony.

Julian Bond said on a King Day celebration:
"Today we do not honour the critic of capitalism, or the pacifist who declared all wars evil, or the man of God who argued that a nation that chose guns over butter would starve its people and kill itself. We do not honour the man who linked apartheid in South Africa and Alabama; we honour an antiseptic hero. We have stripped his life of controversy, and celebrate the conventional instead."


We forget that when he began to speak out against the war and criticize U.S. government policies, he was vilified, wiretapped and discredited by the same people who had praised and honored him.
"I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world."-MLK


On April 4, 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the same warning about America as Rev. Wright gave in 2003. Dr. King said:

"Don't let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America "you are too arrogant, and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God."


The same Dr. King that is claimed as one of the greatest Americans, is the same man who warned the American government and U.S. big business 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."

The greatest nation on Earth, becoming the greatest two-faced looter and scavenger on Earth. We shake hands and give arms to known scoundrels and dictators when it suits our purpose, only to turn on them, denounce them and wage war when it does not.

The same Nobel Peace Prize winner that America proudly holds dear, condemned American aggression, criticizing in 1967;
"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government."

Time Magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi."
The Washington Post wrote that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."
He was called a left wing crackpot, an invitation to the White House was rescinded and he fell off the most admired list. He had come full circle. The jeers that turned to cheers were back to jeers again.

Now it's cheers again for Dr. King. But is cheers without the whole story.
Would it disturb the pristine King celebrations too much to recall and examine his messages of human rights outside the realm of black civil rights? Of course it would.
After reading his writings from those years, I think If America had listened to Dr. King's perspectives and solutions, we could have avoided some of the domestic and world problems we now face.

So, just as I know you can't judge someones life by a few video clips, I hope we can begin to appreciate and celebrate the fullness of Dr. King's message and life. Considering the ongoing racial problems, another war, the struggling economy, and our scary global situation, it's Dr. King the dissenter, the rebel who is not afraid of telling hard truths, that is more relevant today, not the saintly dreamer on a mountaintop.
He was in my opinion a true patriot, especially at the end.

This is brilliant.
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967


"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood." - MLK

8 comments:

AnnMarie Kneebone said...

Thank you!

Dharma Kelleher said...

The radical revolutionary is the aspect of Dr. King that I have always loved. His willingness to speak the ugly truth to power has long been an inspiration to me.

To ignore his courage to call America on its crap is to rob ourselves of what made this man the great mind that he was.

Thank you for sharing it.

Monica Roberts said...

I agree with Tavis Smiley when he states Dr. King was the greatest American we Africna-Americans ever produced.

And we've had some exceptional ones over the years ;)

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