Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MLK: More Than Just "I Have a Dream"

(This oldie-but-goodie is reposted from our archives. Oh, and don't forget to check out this MLK-related post, either) Another year, another MLK day. While many people enjoy this as an extra day off from work or school, a lot of us enjoy to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That legacy is pretty impressive, but is often reduced to a ridiculously simplistic "black and white people living in harmony" angle by the press and political leaders. In fact, this year, the DoD suggested MLK might understand America's participation in wars today. I'm not even making that up. Seriously. Go read the thing for yourself...it is one of the more insane things I've ever heard.

Of course, racial harmony was a big deal in the 1950s and 1960s - well, it is today as well, though it has evolved to more than just black and white (unless you're Juan Williams, or his supporters). I mean, lynchings were going on, black churches were being bombed, dogs and water hoses were used on non-violent protestors. This is all true. However, what we rarely hear about is King's vision of a more just America. People who read this blog probably know that MLK strongly opposed the war in Vietnam. They also probably know his views on the economic composition of this country...let's just say he wasn't all that sold on our version of capitalism (or capitalism in general). He was pro-unions - in fact, he was in Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers when he was shot and killed. He was highly critical of America - notes were found for a sermon he was to give the week following his murder which was titled "Why America May Go To Hell." Yeah...not the warm cuddly MLK we've been sold, but a harsh critic of American domestic and foreign policy. If he was alive today (a counterfactual that The Boondocks did a controversial but brilliant episode on a few years ago), I'd be shocked if he wasn't branded an enemy of the state.

The fact is, every year, political leaders and the press trot out this image of King that is radically different from the complete King. MLK was about a lot more than the "I Have a Dream" speech, and his views on topics like labor, economics, and war are substantially more relevant to the problems in America today than the caricature MLK celebrated in America who tells us to be nice to people who have a different skin color. So, in that spirit, please make a point to spread the message about the real MLK. Read and encourage others to read Michael Eric Dyson's book on the real MLK. Get involved in debates on the issues he fought hard for (and ultimately was killed for). And, at the very least, encourage people to listen to something other than the "I Have A Dream" speech. The speech few seem to highlight (not surprisingly, given its content) is his address at the Riverside Church. Watch the opening part of it below (the entire text is here), and make sure to spread the word to others.

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