2009/01/20

We're far short of King's dream

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday and the inauguration of the first black American president, it's worth remembering what exactly King fought and died for. He believed in racial equality, democratic socialism, and an end to imperialism. It's a measure of how far we still have to go until we achieve King's vision and create a truly just society that Barack Obama only supports one of these principles.

6 comments:

nessie said...

...I guess that's why my heart kinda sank as I listened to some of the inauguration speech--which makes me feel like such a freak when everyone around is rapt with giddiness. Oh well...thanks for being a sane voice in the wilderness, Jake!

Jon said...

it's good to hold our leaders accountable but, by the same token, baby steps.

MK said...

It is a pretty unbelievable statement to say that King "faught and died for" socialism and "an end to imperialism". I consider myself pretty knowledgeble about history (In fact, I think I know more than at least 98% of the population). Yet I wasn't even aware that he believed in those things. He may have believed in a lot of things. For all I know, he could have been a great believer that the best dessert to eat after a meal was pie. But that is not what he is known for. He is known for the his belief in the first principle you mention, racial equality, and perhaps more importantly his advocacy of the use of forceful but non-violant means to achieve this. Take a look at his answers.com page: http://www.answers.com/topic/martin-luther-king-jr From a brief glance, it looks to me like his opinions of the structures of the economic system and American foreign policy is not even mentioned in any of of the reference articles. So whether Obama agrees with King on those issues has nothing to do with how much the country is achieving King's vision. That is not what King is known for and it isn't what makes him such an important historical figure.

chris said...

Have to disagree with the last commenter. When King died he was organizing sanitation workers in Memphis. He called the United States the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world" and spoke out against the Vietnam War. These were clearly things that King believed deeply in, but they were not always popular with others, even some of his allies. If history has forgotten these elements of King's message, it's more an indictment of our apathy and willingness to be led than the depth of King's commitment.

After all, how are imperialism or economic oppression less wrong than racial oppression?

Anonymous said...

hey, Stephen (same as at tattler) here.

King's efforts shifted towards economic justice during his last year or two. It began with him speaking out against the Vietnam war and ended while he was organzing in Memphis (unforgettable 'I Am A Man' posters come to mind immediately). That said, I think that his economic justice platform is often skewed by leftists to make it appear that king was fighting for some form of socialism, I never read that.

During the 50s and 60s the black population was exploited by "contract sellers" who 'sold' black people homes but repossessed them if they missed a payment but without returning the principal or interest. It was a huge fraud. Its what brought King to the Douglas and Marquette park marches to protest contract selling practices in neighborhoods like Lawndale. In that context King was demanding that lenders lend without consideration of race (whereas they were previously disqualifying highly qualified black buyers), not some sort of socialism.

I mean... the right pretends that King never talked about war or economy, but the left sometimes paints acts like he was a modern day Eugene Debs.

So MK, King was very vocal about economic justice during the last 24 months of his life and history often forgets to mention this... but I don't think he died fighting "imperialism"... whatever that means.

Anonymous said...

Best book to read about King is by King himself. Its a collection of essays:

"Why We Can't Wait"


--stephen