MLK, 25 years on, and beyond the politics of race
April 4, 2003 5:05 AM   Subscribe

"At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: 'Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?' 'Peace and civil rights don’t mix', they say. 'Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people', they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling."
posted by riviera (9 comments total)
As a spring '68 baby, I make it *35* years.

Still a true American hero, no matter what his personal failings. We could use another (dozen) like him.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:57 AM on April 4, 2003

Pardon the typo: yes, 35 years on. And perhaps the context allows us to look beyond King as simply a civil rights leader, and see properly the role he embraced in his last years as an opponent of the Vietnam war, and a social activist on a wider stage:

"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 is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
posted by riviera at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2003

Just as enlightening is a careful examination of the thoughts of "the other side" in his debate, and how they still exist. They live in a world that is of numerous dichotomies: *we* are good, *they* are evil; *we* are capitalist/Xtian, *they* are communist/Moslem, etc.

Which explains their confusion at his "overlapping" goals of civil rights and peace. While they could see him embrace one or the other, to embrace both is something only a communist would do. Only a communist would *blur* a clear and easy to understand dichotomy.

And their power is still evident today. For how many peace activists feel they *must* add the qualifier to their statements, "...but I support the troops."
posted by kablam at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2003

growing up i had never heard mention of Dr. King's peace school texts it was all about civil rights. Had always assumed he was killed because of that...

in my late teens i finally read about his vietnam speech, read the speech and i thought--this is why he was killed.

i'm curious if other people in the US had a similar experience with only being taught the civil rights history...and, riviera, what sort of exposure--and what aspects of his work--do you get in the UK?
posted by th3ph17 at 8:13 AM on April 4, 2003

Amen, riviera. That second "A true revolution of values...." quote you provide above is extraordinarily important. We rarely see as clearly as King how WE produce the inequities that breed crime, war, terror....the endless need for sycophantic "troops" (which, kablam, many of us don't support in any way aside from that which we'd provide any human being), the endless Vietnams, the endless Iraqs.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us.

Bless the memory of Martin Luther King....and bless this bloody world.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 8:46 AM on April 4, 2003

To answer your question, th3ph17: King's later activism doesn't get much attention at all in the mainstream, but it's aired more extensively.

It's a little chilling to think that the 'Beyond Vietnam' speech (in HTML format here, I now see) was delivered exactly a year before King's death, and so 36 years ago today. It's a valid counter-argument to say that King's objections to the Vietnam war are less applicable to the current conflict, when comparing the circumstances of the Vietnamese and the Iraqis; however, the main thrust against 'negative anti-communism' applies very much to the 'Iran and Syria next' doctrine proposed by American neoconservatives.

When King says '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"', it's hard not to agree with him. I read a compelling editorial today in an email newsletter to which I subscribe:

The US propaganda machine has for a long time now been fostering the myth of a worldwide terror complex operating against the States. These terrorists, wherever they're from, all have two things in common: 1) they have a frothing desire to destroy the United States and crush western freedom; and 2) they have links with Al Quaeda. Al Quaeda is the glue that binds this unwieldy mass of activists, political parties, militants and rogue states. Al Quaeda is that which all bad things have in common. It is the Dark Side.

Now, weirdly, reality is starting to live up to the rhetoric - because (unless you're China) there is simply no other way to fight the US other than to use terrorist-style tactics.

The word 'terrorism' is shifting in meaning. The Pentagon and the media were quick to use the word 'terrorism' to describe things like the Iraqi car bomb at the checkpoint, and at first this seemed absurd because, for goodness sake, this is a *war* - America is the invading force - 'terrorism' is simply the wrong word, surely? These are acts of soldiery, aren't they? But then you realise that in this scenario there are no possible acts of soldiery other than car bombs and booby traps. To be at war with America means to engage in terrorism. The word 'terrorism' simply has to widen to accommodate valid, provoked wartime action.

And that chills me too.
posted by riviera at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2003

Damn, I really ought to proof-read my own stuff: King's later work is more extensively embraced by the 'new internationalist' left in the UK, perhaps in part because it's the bit which gets stripped from the biographies; as King himself implied, he saw his mission as one where the civil rights campaign was addressing a symptom, not a root cause.
posted by riviera at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2003

Great post riviera. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 3:32 PM on April 4, 2003

dr. king's final published title,
" trumpet of conscience" deals with the broad spectrum of social dilemma...he was a revolutionary.

greatest american of the 20th century, IMHO...
posted by aiq at 7:51 PM on April 4, 2003

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