The King That Was and the King That Wasn’t: Martin Luther King Jr. vs. capitalism, militarism and racism – then and now (Part 1 of 3)


  For anyone who’s been an avid viewer of U.S. television within the past two decades or so, it would likely seem impossible to imagine a time when most Americans offered anything less than absolute admiration and praise for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King easily is the most celebrated icon of the 1950’s-‘60’s Civil Rights Movement, and he’s been rightfully embraced as an American hero with an iconic status usually reserved for U.S. presidents. There is a national holiday bearing his name for the purpose of reflecting back on the life he lived and the lessons he taught. (*) It’s not all that rare to see ads run on corporate television praising the man and his vision, sometimes even notifying of a “MLK JR. Day Special Sale!” Most recently a large monument was erected on the U.S. Capital’s National Mall in honor of his memory. The dedication of the monument was attended by leaders from the Civil Rights generation, modern-day activists as well as today’s most prominent Black politicians. It even included a special address delivered by the nation’s very first African American President, Barack Obama, a sight hardly anyone could have foreseen only a generation ago. [1] A powerful sight it certainly was, but it was lacking one thing. Almost all of the speakers at this event repeated the basic narrative often recited in schoolbooks: King was a man who set out with a singular mission to end Southern segregation and unite people of all races in loving peaceful harmony for generations to come. That certainly was a large part of his mission, but nearly every mainstream telling of King’s story leaves listeners with the impression that his life and his goals climaxed with the 1963 March on Washington and ended with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That account would have you believe that King died at a time when his Dream was moving closer towards becoming reality while simultaneously ignoring the growth and maturation of his entire worldview that occurred during the last 2-3 years of his life.

pictured third from left is Whitney Young, Martin Luther King Jr., standing behind King is John Lewis. Standing to the right of President John F. Kennedy is the legendary A. Philip Randolph, and to the furthest right in the photo is Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. This photograph was taken after the March on Washington in 1963.
pictured third from left is Whitney Young, Martin Luther King Jr., standing behind King is John Lewis. Standing to the right of President John F. Kennedy is the legendary A. Philip Randolph, and to the furthest right of the photograph is Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. This picture was taken after the March on Washington in 1963.

Today everyone from the nation’s oldest and well-respected civil rights organization, the NAACP, to right-wing conservative fear-monger, Glenn Beck, claim to be Dr. King’s ideological descendants who uphold his legacy and continue fighting to see that his Dream shall one day become a reality. That is not to say that claims made by the political Left and politically Right are equally sincere or are of equal merit. Absurd claims made by the likes of Beck and his ‘tea party’ supporters along with equally crazy assertions by the National Black Republican Association and Raging Elephants have often bordered on outright blasphemy. (**) [2] A prime example of their complete distortion occurred when Beck led a ‘tea party’ rally of right-wing ideologues to the Lincoln memorial on the 47 anniversary of King’s infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. Leading up to the rally, he declared his intent to “reclaim the civil rights movement” because “blacks don’t own Martin Luther King.” [3] He went on to explain how he and his mass of deluded followers “will take back [the civil rights movement], because we were the ones who did it in the first place!” [4] It was little surprise that those on the Left side of U.S. politics denounced Beck’s distorting and twisting of Rev. King’s and the civil rights movement’s legacy. Among those who openly criticized were heroes and activists whom had known, struggled and marched with King like the U.S. congressman from the state of Georgia, Rep. John Lewis, as well as former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson. Popular liberal-leaning activists like Lewis, Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and the NAACP are indeed largely carrying on in the spirit of Dr. King’s Dream by promoting policies that help encourage greater institutional diversity, provide much-needed government assistance to the poor, and make health care coverage more affordable for everyone. In the years since King’s death, civil rights leaders and organizations have often sought to eradicate these kinds of social inequities by channeling their efforts legislatively through the Democratic Party. [5] But the results of these efforts have been truly incremental at best. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are servants of corporate capital. It’s largely corporations who line their campaign coffers and largely corporate CEOs whose wellbeing comes first in their policy-making. In the end, neither of these political parties will prove to be the appropriate avenue for achieving Dr. King’s dream.

“I have a dream… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today… one day right here in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers… we will be able to speed up to when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” [6]

King stands in front of the Lincoln Monument in D.C.
King stands in front of the Lincoln Monument in D.C.

These infamous words, spoken by Dr. King at the 1963 March on Washington, will forever be linked with his legacy. The strength and power of his words and message still resonate today, but it’s also important to realize that this particular speech is but one in a lifetime full of many. These words in fact were neither his best nor his most important. The passages quoted from this one speech have been circulated repeatedly through mainstream media since first spoken, and they unfortunately have been used to fit the tireless narrative that King’s “Dream” finally came into fruition, first with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later with the election of Barack Obama as U.S. President. These preferred narratives offer little details regarding King’s life after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and act as if nothing of importance happened again in life until his eventual assassination. If one didn’t know better, they would likely conclude that passage of Civil Rights and Voting Acts were the last real milestones in his life as a Civil Rights Leader and activist. It is often assumed that although he realized before his death that, while things were far from perfect, they were generally moving in the right direction as far as race in America was concerned. This logic makes the assumption that with Southern Jim Crow segregation having been knocked down, employment discrimination declared illegal and voting rights given the guaranteed promise of federal oversight, all obstacles were removed which stood in the way of African Americans gaining full and complete equity with whites.

Looking at the nearly 500 years of African American life on the shores of the Americas, in retrospect it seems rather naïve to some of us that many people really believe that the severe inequities and extreme poverty, caused and conditioned by whites through slavery, violence, suppression and ‘Jim Crow’ segregation, could simply be erased by the passage of legislation proposing to end the legality of excluding Black people from private and public institutions. This legislation was, of course, a major step in knocking down what seemed like an impenetrable belief in white supremacy. However, it should have been seen as a just the tiny first step in remedying five centuries of brutal suffering. Largely because of King’s brilliantly-planned orchestrations, an unprecedented amount of attention was paid to the Civil Rights struggle in the middle part of the 20th century and a large amount of whites became increasingly willing to admit there were injustices being done to the African American population. A majority would eventually come to agree that legally barring Black people from entrance and participation in institutions, schools and restaurants was unjust, inhumane and unfair. However, the empathy stopped once the “Whites Only Allowed” sign was removed. No regard was given to the unique economic exclusion of Black people carried out by the state and federal governments alike. For example, in the aftermath of World War II, as the window of opportunity seemingly increased for other historically-persecuted groups like the Irish, Italians, Catholics and Jews, Black people were still systematically denied the same options and public benefits allotted others.  In fact the de facto segregation we see today, where white people mainly occupy suburban residential housing areas as opposed to Black and Brown people in large numbers being confined to urban inner-city ghettoes, can be directly traced to official public-housing policies enacted by the U.S. government after World War II. It was completely by design. [7] But this is the gratitude often shown America’s people of color, despite having collectively built the United States from the ground up, despite never having received even a penny for this labor, and despite the fact that African Americans valiantly fought for the U.S. in every single major conflict having occurred since very inception. [8] So while the Civil Rights legislation having emerged from the 1960’s were indeed landmark achievements, having done more for oppressed peoples in the U.S. than any legislation before or since, they contained no remedies addressing the existing social inequities and racial disparities.

I Have a Dream Speech
an aerial view of the 1963 March on Washington

With an unprecedented amount of legislation coming out of the Civil Rights movement at its highpoint, many people saw this period as a new beginning for America. White people collectively came to view the measures contained within the legislation as remedial and considered it the ultimate leveling of the playing field. The final word regarding race in America had been spoken as far as they were concerned. They were essentially washing their hands of the whole mess without even having slightly attempted to understand how this unequal system came into existence in the first place. They willfully chose to remain ignorant of the root causes of racism and bigotry and decided that from then on out any mention of racial inequality’s existence would be deemed “playing the race card.” (+] Today, white conservatives especially deny that racism has any meaningful effect in peoples’ lives at all. In a way, passage of Civil and Voting Rights laws had the unintended effect of allowing whites to feel as if they were off the hook without ever having to actually give anything up. And so even though institutional racism remained deeply embedded in every fabric of American life, it was declared that the time had come for everyone to be “colorblind.” Race was no longer an issue that needed to be talked about, it was said, and any mention of it would only serve to divide. With the race issues supposedly settled and out of the way, according to this theory, any African American failing to advance the economic scale should have no one other than themselves to blame. The irony in this is that it was white people who drew the color-line so sharply in the first place and have been the sole beneficiaries of it. But the myth of “colorblindness” fits conveniently right in with the tired old American cliché of “In America you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard and follow all of the rules of society.” Is it any wonder then that of all Dr. King’s speeches, it was the “I have a dream…” speech that has been embraced as part of mainstream American philosophy? It invokes thoughts of a racial utopia where people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” What better way to convey the honorable principal of living in a “colorblind” society where nobody sees racial differences? Unfortunately, these words have been isolated from their full context and were initially meant to convey hope for what a potential future could be like if that point could someday be reached. That day has not yet come, however. King knew that racism could not be eradicated under a capitalist system because scapegoats are a necessity for capitalism to thrive. He knew that the color-blind paradise he spoke about could not exist as long as the system necessarily needed losers in order for there to be winners, and he said as much.

The so-called "Commissioner of Public Safety" in Birmingham, Alabama was the vicious Bull Connor, who attacked Black teenagers with high-pressured fire-hoses and dogs.
The so-called “Commissioner of Public Safety” in Birmingham, Alabama was the vicious Bull Connor, who attacked Black teenagers with high-pressured fire-hoses and dogs.
Southerners were much more explicit about their racism than their neighbors in the North.
Southerners were much more explicit about their racism than their neighbors in the North.

The final two years of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life were occupied mainly with human rights activism not in the South, but within the poverty-stricken ghettoes in the Northern United States. After working throughout the 1950’s and most of the 60’s to dismantle ‘Jim Crow’ in the South, King began to bring focus to the altogether more complicated situation in the North.  Organizing a clear strategy of attacking racism apart from the American South presented a big challenge. The Southern States, including the former Confederate States, proudly displayed their bigotry towards Black Americans and did not hesitate to declare their unyielding belief in total white supremacy. [9] (^) By being so viciously vigilant in their goal to oppress, establishing an apartheid-like system of control, they also placed a visible target on their back so that the system could one day be more easily attacked and dismantled. But for Black Americans who sought to free themselves from the terrible conditions of Southern segregation, the North would prove to be no Promised Land. [10] In the wake of the 20th century, African Americans began to migrate North in massive numbers  in hopes of finding better employment, economic opportunities and improved living conditions. Instead of escaping the South and reaching lands filled with opportunity, they were greeted once again with animosity, violence and lynching by whites who viewed them as unworthy job competition and found in them convenient scapegoats for their own deteriorating economic conditions. Although legal segregation may not have been in the books there as it was in the South, segregation and unequal treatment were very much a reality in the North as well. Minorities were almost exclusively relegated to the ghettoes and this trend only heightened with the passage of time. These ghettoes were built in a way that seemed to close its residents in, residents who lived in abject poverty. With African Americans’ living quarters largely out of sight, the more ideologically liberal-minded whites could confidently condemn their conservative Southern white counterparts and their segregationist policies without having to take a look at the effects racism had on the lives of Black people in their own backyard. It was here where Dr. Martin Luther King would realize just how difficult the struggle for human equality could truly be, and it was here he came to terms with just how deeply entrenched the stains of racism had seeped into American society. It was worse than he himself could have ever imagined.

13ebe1375df351523b0767bd166acd801966-1968 largely saw King organizing with the struggling poor in inner-city Chicago, Illinois. The living conditions the poor had been left in shocked even him, and encountered an immense amount of resistance from the larger white community when it came to offering these people even the slightest helping hand. The events which took place in this timespan radically altered King’s ways of thinking about the U.S. economic system and its relationship to racism, imperialism and war overseas. Take a moment and ponder how people you know would react upon being told that in the final years of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, he is known to have said, “There is something wrong with the economic system in [the U.S.]… Something is wrong with capitalism.” [11] This statement alone challenges the fundamental core values held by most Americans, especially those held by conservatives. Supporting capitalism, we are indoctrinated almost from birth to believe, is an essential virtue of American patriotism. Rarely will a candidate, regardless of which position or public office she/he might hold, be heard uttering a single word that could possibly be perceived as critical of the fundamental elements of capitalism. To do so is tantamount to political suicide. It opens one to charges of being “unpatriotic” or worse “un-American”, charges Dr. King himself had repeatedly hurled at him in his final years. [12] King went on to describe how “the problems we are dealing with are not going to be solved until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power”, and he did not mince words when on several occasions he boldly spoke of the need for a “better distribution of wealth.” [13] Nearly four decades after these words were spoken, quite a bit of controversy was stirred up during the 2008 campaign for President when then-presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was selectively quoted saying to an unlicensed plumber that when “you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” [14] Despite these being only a few words from a lengthy discussion between the two men, their mere utterance was the only thing that mattered to political and social conservatives who saw in them confirmation of all their greatest fears coming true: that all their “hard-earned money” would  be used to pay out “reparations” to minority communities. [15] Despite the fact that Obama was in fact only speaking about fairer tax rates and has never even slightly hinted any support for reparations, that didn’t stop this “Joe the Plumber” character from being lauded as a hero by the right-wing or from making the rounds on every show on the FOX News TV Channel. Ironically it was Glenn Beck who most famously attacked fair distribution of wealth during the past four years. You know, the same fellow who claims to be Martin Luther King’s modern-day torch-bearer. Perhaps he should be reminded that it was none other than King himself who explicitly advocated a radical redistribution of wealth. It was also King who offered admiration and praise for Sweden where he said there was “no poverty, no unemployment [and] no slums”, and it was also King who called out America for being such a “hypocritical nation.” [16] These are not the remarks of someone who is bitter. They are the remarks of someone who has seen first-hand what capitalism can do on both ends of the ladder, for both the rich and poor. It became clearer than ever before to him that the needs of poor people would never be met under a capitalist system, which he summed up best when writing a letter to a friend. In it, he wrote: “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and racism.” [17] He wasn’t just expressing his conviction that capitalism brought the same amount of harm and evil to the world as war and racism. He was drawing the connection between the three. He had come to the realization that capitalism must ultimately utilize both racism and militarism if it is to succeed, survive and thrive.

Perhaps even more so than his radical critique of capitalism and economic inequality, King’s absolute condemnation of the U.S. Empire’s ever-expanding military operations in Vietnam further alienated him from the good graces of majority of Americas. [18] (^^) When King first being to speak frequently and publicly about his position in 1966, it was an unpopular position to take. It wasn’t until a few years later that massive crowds would routinely descend upon the Capital as well as other cities and campuses across the country in anti-war demonstrations shouting “Hell no, we won’t go!” America’s involvement in Southeastern Asia’s affairs can be traced back to almost immediately at World War II’s end. Its officially given purpose for role as “advisor” in Vietnam and elsewhere was to ‘hinder the spread of communism’ across the Eastern part of the globe. [19] The intensification of this role in Vietnam came as a result of the Vietnamese people liberating themselves from French imperial rule. Having fought an eight-year War against the much more technologically-advanced nation of France, the Vietnamese emerged victorious after uniting under a revolutionary populist movement. After forcing the French to declare defeat, a mutual agreement was made between the two parties that Vietnam would temporarily splinter into Northern and Southern factions, with the French retreating South. Two years later, there was to be a nationally-held democratic election. After the people had made their choice, North and South Vietnam would come together again under a single unified government. [20] The U.S., fearing the election would result in a Leftist or communist revolutionary government, would not allow this to happen. At the same time events in Vietnam were unfolding, the U.S. had been in national panic-mode again. This time it was known as the “Red Scare.” With the flames of this fear being largely fanned and encouraged by politicians {*^), “communism” became a convenient bogeyman for all of society’s problems to be blamed. Communism, socialism or any other movement perceived as Left-wing were painted with one giant brush of negativity. Part of the blame for this can be attributed to the tyrannical rule of Stalin, but more important was the increasingly-dangerous rivalry that had emerged between the Soviet Union and the United States. After Japan’s defeat and the aftermath of World War II, both the U.S. and Soviet Russia were eying for control and influence in the Southeastern part of Asia. [21] In truth, neither the U.S.A. nor the Soviets saw what was in the best interests of the people living in Southeast Asia as a motivation for their intervention. Before the national elections could ever take place in Vietnam, the U.S. strategically threw its weight behind South Vietnam following retreat by the French. A regime was set up in South Vietnam which, for all intents and purposes, acted as a puppet for U.S. interests or, as the Pentagon’s private papers blatantly state, “South Vietnam was essentially a creation by the United States.” [22] The South Vietnamese regime was created without the consent or approval of the vast majority of people living in Vietnam, for the revolutionary movement that had fought off French occupation enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Vietnamese people. Under their leadership, a serious attempt was made to provide for and meet the needs of all the people of Vietnam. They had fought for and won the right to determine their own destiny. Once the U.S. picked up where the defeated-French left off, it was only natural they would be met with opposition from the North and all-out war would be imminent. It’s sickly ironic that the United States, proudly having fought off British colonial occupation for the right to “self-determination” just two centuries earlier, would come to fight a costly war with the objective of occupying and preventing the Vietnamese people from making their own “self-determination.” Whether given by President Truman, Eisenhower or Kennedy, the stated reasoning for U.S. involvement always had to do with “fighting communism” or guaranteeing the various Southeastern Asian nations’ “independence.” [23] While there may be some truth to the former, there was never any mention of the other underlying motives contributing to a desire for control in Southeast Asia: its petroleum production and abundance in natural resources like rice, rubber and tin. [24] Following the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson to his own elected term in 1964, the nation’s war efforts in Vietnam increased dramatically. At the time of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in late 1963, about 12,000 military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. [25] By early 1968, after four years under the Johnson Administration, the number had increased to more than 500,000 combat troops fighting on the ground in one of the most horrific and violent wars the world had seen in decades. [26] This horrible travesty would eventually take the lives of nearly 60,000 Americans and an astounding 1,000,000 Vietnamese. All were lives needlessly lost in a war based on little more than Imperialistic vanities, [27] or as the late Historian Howard Zinn so eloquently puts it in his book, A Peoples’ History of the United States: “From 1964 to 1972. The wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort… to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny peasant country – and failed.” [28]


Young activists protesting the U.S. War on Vietnam and drawing the parallel between colonialism and war against nonwhite peoples overseas and colonialism and war against nonwhite peoples in the U.S.
Young activists protesting the U.S. War on Vietnam and drawing the parallel between colonialism and war against nonwhite peoples overseas and colonialism and war against nonwhite peoples in the U.S.

Martin Luther King’s initial opposition to the War in Vietnam was somewhat pacifist. That is until he came upon horrifying images being published in a magazine for the first time in the mid-1960’s which showed napalm being used on Vietnamese civilians and children. [29] This was a turning point for him when he began to see the existing correlation between the plight of Southeastern Asians, African Americans and people of color all across the globe being victimized by a white colonialism. Just as the United States had come into existence after Europeans occupied the lands originally inhabited by the Native peoples of the Americas, the U.S. now set up and supported its own puppet regimes always with intent of conquering and controlling nonwhite populations along with their land and resources. According to King, the U.S. threw its support behind “the wealthy and the secure while we create a [living] hell for the poor” and was in effect “creating concentration camps we call fortified hamlets.” [30] His newfound perspective awakened his consciousness to the point where he could not hold his tongue any longer when it came to condemning U.S.-sponsored terror, despite there being immense pressure for him to. In 1966, the U.S. was a nation fighting a war that enjoyed the overwhelming support of the general population. [31] Those with recognized positions of leadership in the Civil Rights community were no exception, and they were especially reluctant to offer criticism of President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose actions were seen as critical to finally having overcome unanimous Southern Democratic opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. [32] (^*) King too had many reservations and felt a certain allegiance to President Johnson, but ultimately he could not compromise himself and remain silent to the injustices being done in his name and in name of his countrymen. He explained, “I knew 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.” And this would not be the only time in which he explicitly shared his conviction that “the United States of America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” [33] All indicators were that the political consequences of his speaking out would be overwhelmingly negative. His decision to voice his opposition went against the political consensus and was motivated by what he felt was a more divine purpose. He was a religious man and a preacher who was motivated to speak against what he felt were injustices before God. In regards to U.S. imperialism, his position was that “God didn’t call on America to engage in a senseless, unjust war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that War. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any other nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and arrogance as a nation.” [34] As a consequence for his moral stand in giving a voice to the oppressed peoples of the world, Martin Luther King found himself demonized by the mainstream press and shunned by many of his former allies in the Civil Rights Community. The Washington Post and LIFE asserted King had “betrayed the cause” of Civil Rights and “[has diminished] his usefulness… to his country and to his people.”The New York Times took it a step further by accusing him of “recklessly comparing American military methods to those of the Nazi’s.” [35] The way he was vilified by the press and harassed by the FBI is incomprehensible to some today because of the way his memory has been eulogized by the media and the national government. Further demonstrating the deliberate misinterpretation of King’s message by government officials are remarks made publicly as recently as 2011 by General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, Jon Jonson. Johnson raised quite a few eyebrows when he countered anti-war demonstrations against the current U.S.-Afghanistan War by outrageously asserting that “if King were [living] today, he would recognize that… our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms.” In a sign that King’s dream has not been completely lost, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter of rebuke. [36]

These conservative protesters of the 1960's are almost indistinguishable from many of the tea party protesters in the 21st century.
These conservative protesters of the 1960’s are almost indistinguishable from many of the tea party protesters in the 21st century.

 In light of all the things Dr. King bore witness to in his lifetime, from the virulent racism and violence shown his people by Southern conservatives, to the condescending bigotry shown by Northern liberals, it is completely understandable that his optimism when it came to white peoples’ further commitment to justice began to fade. Chicago, more than any other city in the nation, proved to him that institutional racism was far from being just a Southern problem. The realities of Northern city life opened his eyes to racism on a national scale, and in his opposition to the Vietnam War his eyes were opened to racism being carried out on a truly international scale. There has been much discussion contrasting the tactics advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. with those advocated by Minister Malcolm X. While it is true that Malcolm once referred to King as an “Uncle Tom”, it is also true the two men’s views were being drawn closer and closer towards each other before they were both assassinated. [37] While King never wavered in his commitment to nonviolence, both he and Malcolm came to realize that racism, capitalism and imperialism walked hand in hand and none of could be effectively done away with without dealing with all three. Nothing radicalized King more than bearing witness to the abject poverty suffered by the poor within America’s inner-city ghettos. Infuriating him most was that these conditions were allowed in richest nation the world had ever known. [38] Though he tried to remain cool and optimistic at all times, his frustration with the situation could occasionally be noticed in public. Once, after delivering a speech, a white man asked King when the time would come for Black people to “help themselves instead of asking for government assistance.” Instead of blowing off the ignorant question, he delivered a powerful and defiant response explaining that African Americans “ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say ‘We are here, we are poor, we don’t have any money. You have made us this way, you keep us down and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.’” On another occasion he remarked, “Many people would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over Black Americans.” [39] He foresaw the coming conservative backlash against the progress that had been made when he predicted that the U.S. “could not stand two more summers without leading inevitably to a Right-wing takeover and a fascist state.” [40] His optimism was slowly fading into a deep despair. Reflecting back on the larger Movement from 1954-1965, he offered a sobering assessment: “Even though we’ve gained legislative and judicial victories, they did very little to improve the lot of millions of Negroes in the teeming ghettoes of the North. Changes were at best surface change.” [41] Furthermore, he declared that “all I have been doing in trying to correct this system in America has been in vain. The whole [system] will have to be done away with.” [42] Finally, in his bluntest assessment yet he made note that “the vast majority of white Americans are racist.” [43] This is the Martin Luther King abruptly taken from the world in 1968, and the Martin Luther King the world desperately needs now more than ever.

Noted Sources and Citations:

  1. Anderson, Stacy A. (2011, Oct. 16). Obama MLK Memorial Dedication Speech Cites Jobs, Economy: ‘I know we will overcome’. Associated Press. Retrieved from
  2. Fears, Darryl. (2006, Oct. 19). Controversial Ad Links MLK, GOP. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  3. Harris, Paul. (2010, Aug. 28). Martin Luther King’s Spirit is claimed by Fox TV’s Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. The Guardian.
  4. Williams, Patricia. (2010, Sep. 18). Tea Party Rhetoric Twists the Language of Emancipation. The Guardian.
  5. Chait, Jonathon. (2012, May 22). The Conservative Fantasy History of Civil Rights. New York Magazine.
  6. Quotation from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington. Retrieved from
  7. PBS Interview with Dalton Conley given in 2003. RACE –the power of an illusion. Retrieved from ;Kaplan, Jonathon with Valls, Andrew. (2007, July). Housing Discrimination as a Basis for Reparations. Public Affairs Quarterly. Vol. 21, No. 3.
  8. (2012, Feb. 27). African Americans Have Fought For Their Country Every Time. Detroit Legal News.
  9. Sullivan, Patricia. (2009). Lift Every Voice and Sing: the NAACP and the making of the Civil Rights Movement. Page 56.
  10. Sullivan, 102.
  11. Garrow, David J. (1986). Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Page 537.
  12. Pierre, Robert E. (2011, Oct. 16). Martin Luther King Jr. Made Our Nation Uncomfortable. The Washington Post.
  13. Nelson, Camille A. (2008). The Radical Perspectives of One Born in the Shadow of King. N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change. Vol. 32. Pages 485-516. Retrieved from ; Garrow, 562.
  14. Gewargis, Natalie. (2008, Oct. 14). ‘Spread the Wealth’? ABC News: Political Punch.
  15. Ramos-Chapman, Naima. (2010, Aug. 28). Media Matters Rounds up Glenn Beck’s Most Racist Moments. Color Lines. Retrieved from
  16. Garrow, 568.
  17. Nelson-N.Y.U. Law, 485-516.
  18. Newport, Frank. (2006, Jan. 16). Martin Luther King Jr.: revered more after death than before. Gallup News Service. Retrieved from
  19. Zinn, Howard. (2003 ed.). A Peoples’ History of the United States. Pages 471-475.
  20. Zinn, 472.
  21. Zinn, 424-425.
  22. Zinn, 472.
  23. Zinn, 475.
  24. Zinn, 471.
  25. Moyers, Bill. (2009, Nov. 20). Johnson’s Escalation of Vietnam: a timeline. Bill Moyers Journal. Retrieved from
  26. Zinn, 477.
  27. Moyers.
  28. Zinn, 469.
  30. Garrow, 553.
  31. Garrow, 562.
  32. Garrow, 546.
  33. Garrow, 572.
  34. Quote from MLK Jr. Retrieved from
  35. Garrow, 553-554.
  36. The Gen. Counsel of Defense’s words quoted in the letter of response sent to him by Rep. Michael Honda, chair of the Afghanistan Task Force. It contained signatures from the following members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus: Representatives Donna Edwards, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, James McGovern, Paul Grijalva, Paul Tonko, Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton and John Lewis.
  37. Blake, John. (2010, May 19). Malcolm and Martin, Closer Than We Ever Thought. CNN. Retrieved from
  38. In King’s words: “America’s greatest problem and contradiction is that it harbors 35,000,000 poor at a time when its resources are so vast that the existence of poverty is an anachronism.” Garrow, 533.
  39. Garrow, 562.
  40. Garrow, 618.
  41. Garrow, 537.
  42. Garrow, 580.
  43. Garrow, 572.

Other notes:

*Establishing a national holiday in Dr. King’s honor was not without controversy. Opposition had to be overcome from quite a few states, notably Arizona. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, persistently kept fighting for the noble cause and her efforts and those of others paid off in 1983 when congress gathered enough support to override President Ronald Reagan’s veto.

** In 2006, a GOP organization known as ‘Raging Elephants’ made news by putting up billboards in different parts of the country linking the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. with the 21st century political ideology of the Republican Party. As if that weren’t ridiculous enough already, the slogan claimed the organization was “leading America’s 2nd emancipation.”

+ Talk of this supposed “race card” has always seemed to irk me because it’s such a stupid analogy and is slung around so often it doesn’t have much meaning to me. Besides, who exactly would this “race card” even favor? Hispanics make up about 14% of the country, African Americans 13% and Asian Americans, Native Americans etc. are even less than that. So exactly how would it work to a minority’s advantage to play such a card when they aren’t at a statistical advantage?

^ For the first part of the 20th century, an inscription below a gun display at city of Shreveport, Louisiana’s museum read, “These are the guns with which we maintained white supremacy at the polls.”

^^ King’s average poll ratings for the year 1966 were 32% positive and 63% negative according to Gallup. In 1965, the previous year, he rated 45% positive and 45% negative.

*^ The most famous and notorious of the politicians fueling the “Red Scare” was Senator Joseph McCartney of Wisconsin.

^* Many people today are astonished to learn that it was Democrats who relentlessly filibustered and succeeded in watering down Civil Rights legislation for decades. For more than 100 years, the Democratic Party in the South was the strongest warrior on behalf of segregationist causes. But in the mid-20th century, everything began to alter, and this was due to Civil Rights issues. The Southern states had voted solidly Democratic since at least the 1830’s, the days of Andrew Jackson. During the Civil War, the Democratic Party proudly professed it was the party that would preserve white supremacy whereas the Republican Party was begun initially as an antislavery party. That is not to say most Republicans were crusaders for Civil Rights or anything. One powerful sect of the party, the Radical Republicans, did indeed believe in granting full equality and citizenship to Black Americans, but most opposed slavery for either economic reasons or a moral objection that only went so far as slavery’s abolishment. Northerners were proponents of Industrialization and Big Business as opposed to the older plantation ways of the South. Other Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln, thought that slavery was immoral and objectionable, but still did not believe African Americans were fully equal to whites nor should they be granted the vote. When African American men were franchised, in the North and for a brief period in the South before other methods were used to keep them from the polls, they understandably aligned with the Party of Lincoln. In the latter part of the 19th century however, the GOP failed to deliver on the promises made to African Americans during its early years and became solely a business-oriented party. The Democratic Party largely expanded its brand in the 1930’s with the hugely popular presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would go on to become the only first and only President in history to be elected to the Office four times. The Democratic Party was now a large and unlikely coalition of Northern liberals, African Americans, Labor Unions and traditional Southern Democrats a.k.a. ‘dixiecrats’. A coalition this broad seemed destined for implosion. The first irreparable cracks in the Democratic Party’s unity came at the 1948 Democratic National Convention with a huge standoff over Civil Rights. When liberal Northerners succeeded in adding a Civil Rights plank to their agenda, Southern segregationist Democrats stormed out in protest, eventually established their own ticket. For their presidential candidate on this ticket, officially running as a Dixiecrat, they nominated Strom Thurmond. The 1948 national election for President would be the first time in history, aside from the brief period of Reconstruction, that the Democratic candidate for president (that year incumbent President Harry Truman) did not carry the South solidly. Truman held on to a number of Southern states, but Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond carried the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. 1964 was the watershed year. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he predicted that by doing so his party, the Democrats, would “lose the South for a generation.” These words proved to be prophetic. That election-cycle would see Republican Barry Goldwater carry six states overall: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona. 1968 would see the pro-segregationist Independent candidate, George Wallace, and Republican Richard Nixon split the Southern states and their electoral votes. It was the first time in history that the Democratic presidential candidate (that year Vice President Hubert Humphrey) did not carry a single Southern state. Here we are now in the 21st century, and the formerly Democratic ‘Solid South’ is now is solidly for the Republicans.

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