Today, all American media is tripping over itself to “honor” the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by ripping his quotes out from their vital contexts and sharing them as vague, instagram-ready platitudes about “hate cannot drive out hate” and nonviolence. My inbox is full of big-box stores encouraging me to celebrate this three day weekend by buying their products. Here in Tennessee, a local (white) private school basketball coach is sponsoring a “MLK King of the Court” basketball tournament because playing basketball is his personal Dream (as in, “I have a…”) — a new low for white cluelessness. And meanwhile, all these folks are also saying that we have to respect the presidency of a white supremacist rapist who mocks the disabled, and that BlackLivesMatter protestors need to calm down, and how dare those angry thugs shut down an intersection when Martin Luther King said to be nonviolent.
This is what happens when you whitewash history.
When Martin Luther King was at his most politically active, his approval rating was 63% negative. The majority of Americans thought that civil rights activists were pushing people too fast and using unacceptable aggressive tactics. 60% of Americans thought the March on Washington (you know, where he gave the I Have a Dream speech) was a bad idea because it would spark violence and accomplish nothing. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what’s happening with today’s civil rights movement — the Movement for Black Lives. We are living the civil rights movement right now.
It’s time to #ReclaimMLKDay. We are about to enter a terrifying new era with Trump as our president. We cannot let white, male, wealthy power holders whitewash American history in an effort to dissuade us from taking action. We can honor Dr. King by resisting Trumpism.
Today, let’s revisit the legacy that Dr.King intended to leave. Throughout the 60’s, MLK’s politics grew increasingly leftist and revolutionary. He saw the connections between white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism; between oppression at home and war abroad; between white liberalism and the preservation of white power. Here are some excerpts of his that I think we should revisit as we look ahead to the inauguration.
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.'”-Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.'” -Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” -Martin Luther King Jr., 1967
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and 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 transformed 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. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” – 1967
Do you agree with Dr. King’s more radical quotes? Were you familiar with these quotes and Dr. King’s circumstances when they were written (being arrested in 1963 and the ongoing war in Vietnam, respectively)? How do you see these quotes applying to the Movement for Black Lives and the upcoming inauguration? Comment below!