Today marks the 28th Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It also marks 28 years of reducing the legacy of radical social justice and antiwar activist into that of loving quotes on racial reconciliation. Ultimately, think back to what you were taught about Dr. King and you’ll most likely remember his role in bus boycotts, sit-ins, and famous speeches. Like the memorial erected for him in Washington D.C., the meaning of Dr. King’s legacy has been ossified by the establishment into one of nonviolence and love. What you are not taught is that Dr. King’s concept of love manifested in his theories on social justice, economic equity, human rights, and global war. Today, the establishment that hated Dr. King markets an illusion of who he was. I’ll let the good Doctor make his own case:
On war, capitalism, and civil rights
“I am 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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
On economic justice
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ”
On internal colonialism
“The purpose of the slum is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness. The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn.”
On Jim Crow as both racial and class warfare
"The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow…And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man."
You were probably taught that Dr. King’s harshest critics were white southerners and more radical elements within the movement like Malcolm X. The truth is that during his life the mainstream media criticized Dr. King. On his stance on the Vietnam War, Life magazine described his speeches as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.”
During his life, Dr. King was not well received by the establishment. In the years since his death in 1968, his image and political significance have been sanitized and neutralized. He serves as a mouthpiece for love and compassion as the keys of historical progress. What one should remember was that Dr. King was intensely critical of the capitalist state, global war, and separating economic rights from civil rights. What Dr. King was for was protest, education and direct action. If you truly honor Dr. King and his legacy, you honor the core values of what he stood for.