As our state-sanctioned celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. winds down, let’s not forget some important facts about this great man:
- He was against the Vietnam War during a time when many Americans were not. Over time, this view against the war has developed into a mainstream narrative, but in the 1960s, those who spoke out and marched against it (students, Civil Rights leaders) and refused to serve (Muhammad Ali) were beaten, hosed down, killed, and jailed.
- He condemned issues like poverty, inequality, and racism as *systemic* ills, not merely individual shortcomings. To this day, such broad analyses (those touching on capitalism and white supremacy) are rejected and disregarded by most as “fringe” or “too radical.” In this way, Dr. King would still be viewed as “too radical” by the mainstream media today (the same folks who have whitewashed and co-opted his legacy).
- He was hated and despised by a majority of white America. He had rocks thrown at his head and was routinely spat on during marches. It would be naïve to think this would be any different today. Simply turn on TV stations or radio shows – or peruse social media comments – to see how movements like #BlackLivesMatter are ridiculed, loathed, and detested by the thousands. There is no doubt that Dr. King would be on the front lines of these movements; and, therefore, would take a brunt of this hatred, ignorance, and disrespect.
- He was considered to be “an enemy of the state” by various government agencies. The FBI tapped his phone calls, blacklisted him as a “suspected Communist,” and sent anonymous letters demeaning him and encouraging him to commit suicide. There is even evidence suggesting the government had some hand in his death.
- He initiated the “Poor People’s Campaign” and put forth aneconomic and social bill of rights that espoused “a national responsibility to provide work for all.” King advocated for a jobs guarantee, which would require the government to provide jobs to anyone who could not find one and end unemployment. The bill of rights also included “the right of every citizen to a minimum income” and “the right to an adequate education.” Today, these proposals would be laughed at by media pundits and Dr. King would ultimately be written off as crazy by many of the same folks who pretend to celebrate him.
- He supported the Planned Parenthood Federation and believed that things like “family planning and contraception” should be fully funded by the government – ideas that are despised by conservatives who often call on Dr. King’s legacy to use for their own agendas (i.e. to lash out against the revolts in Ferguson).
Celebrating Dr. King’s legacy is important, but learning and considering his ideas is even more crucial in a time that still needs them. Such ideas have been written off by the same “experts” who now pretend to celebrate the man. Don’t let them off the hook. Let’s celebrate Dr. King for what he truly was: a radical, people’s champion whose ideas questioned the power structure, faced down the defenders of this structure, and challenged the status quo – a status quo that still exists.