By Fahim A. Knight-EL
How do we honor a falling warrior? Other than continuing the struggle for justice in his honor. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a warrior for justice who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to transform a society that was steeped in racial injustice that has permeated the entire social and political structure of America and has led to a history of social inequality relative to African Americans. Dr. King stated: "Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., The Measures of Man, 1959).
Dr. King became morally convicted to transform a society that was steeped in racial injustice and prejudice. Dr. Martin Luther King called for America to look deep into her self and he challenged the moral and ethical foundation in which this nation was supposedly built upon. King stated: "Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritually murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation, and then being hated for being an orphan." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967).
Dr. King in many ways was a true trailblazer and a pioneer for human justice; to celebrate his birthday on January 15, is much more than honoring a black hero, but it is a tribute to a modern day prophet. He was thrust into a vicious human rights battle in the 1950s and 1960s as the premier spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement which he received his assignment from the Montgomery Improvement Association. A little black woman named Rosa Parks in 1955 who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white patron and it was this incident that sparked the Civil Rights movement and led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for 381 days.
Dr. King's motivation can not be viewed separate and apart from the historical context of when the first slave ship docked on the eastern seaboard of the United States in 1555. There was a clarion call and a yearning for human rights from those who were brought to these shores as unwilling captives in chains; the inception of Chattel Slavery was the advent that led to a four hundred (400) year history of systematic oppression, injustice, and racism. Dr. King stated: "Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten....America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness--justice." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967).
These social variables were the impetus that sparked a young southern Christian preacher to pick up the torch of liberation and activism and to stomp on behalf of the least of these. So many Christian preachers today have lost sight of Jesus the Christ mission and have turned a blind eye to addressing oppression and often time their mission is about money and social mobility. They are driven by materialism and not humanism; Dr. King taught a social Gospel, he was deeply concerned with the same people that Jesus was concerned with. King was not interested in building mega churches and sanctuaries; he was more concerned about building human character and used his brilliant oratory skills to challenge a modern day Roman Government who was much more powerful than Pilate. The Prophet Job lost everything, but he never lost faith in God; this was the kind of faith Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had.
There are a plethora of social issues plaguing the African American community ranging from gang violence, single parenting, high school drop out rate, unemployment, high black homicide rate, teenage pregnancy and a sense of disillusionment with a government that has betrayed the poor. Dr. King would be addressing these issues from the pulpit and he would be in the streets amongst the poor and oppressed working to give a voice to the voiceless. These modern day "Uncle Tom" Negro leaders are to busy window dressing and saying what is politically expedient and claiming they are the heir apparent to the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Reverend Al Sharpton is not a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, but the white media has elevated him to the status of modern day mass leader of the African American race, this is insidious and you would have thought Dr. King himself anointed and handpicked him as his predecessor. Reverend Sharpton was a little boy when Dr. King was leading and was not part of King's inner circle. The reality is, the day of elevated mass black leadership is over and we should not be looking for one black leader (the savior syndrome) to lead us to the promise land. This is antiquated thinking and failure to recognize that the world has made a paradigm shift and the concept of race leaders is obsolete.
Reverend Jesse Jackson was not King's most closest confidante; he was a young man who ran errands (getting King’s shoes shined and getting coffee, picking up lunch and answering the phones, etc.) and some of these Negroes were on the FBI payroll, but after King's death they rose to national prominence.
The United States as a nation had evolved socially, politically and economically around the politics of race. Thus, race has consumed the psyche of the citizens of the United States from the very inception and the establishment of this republic. Racial politics has created and shaped the behavior of the dominant culture (European Americans) and the subcultures like (African Americans) behavior, which impacted the socialization process of a nation. Dr. King was confronted with the vicious system of Jim Crow in which African Americans were systematically disenfranchised and denied freedom, justice and equality. Dr. King said he was a drum major for justice. Dr. King stated: "Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963).
It is difficult for me to attend these elaborate King celebrations that are put on every year around January 20 where people who claimed to have walked with Dr. King yesterday but cease to struggle today and now get up giving speeches reminiscing in a nostalgic fashion, as though we have arrived as a people. We in 2009 are faced with some of the same challenges that Dr. King faced over forty (40) years ago, the enemy today is more covert and sophisticated and has further lured black people to sleep with Barack Obama being elected as the president of the United states of America, as though this resolves the social divide and all of sudden racism does not exist and all of America’s race problems have been solved. King stated: “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.” (Reference: Martin Luther King; “I Have a Dream” Speech 1963).
This is indeed a great accomplishment in the history of black America and one that Dr. King fought for and he to would be proud of President-elect Obama becoming the first African American president of the United States of America. However, I must caution President-elect Obama is a token; he does not resolve 310 years of injustice. Now! You do not reach the level that President-Elect Obama has reached by voting and/or by a ballot box election; voting is only an illusion, in what the masses perceive as their tool of expression pursuant to democracy participation and we are taught this is the highest representation of freedom and liberty that one can exercise in a so-called civilized society.
No, I am not willing be duped on a symbol of token success and we call that progress; this so-called progress has been carefully orchestrated and well crafted by those who practiced deception and chicanery to lure the masses of the people to sleep into believing that Obama's appointment resolve 450 years of human injustice and conflict. This election does not begin to resolve the political, economic and social divide that exists inside of America. It is going to take a little more than the appointment of the first so-called African American president. Obama has not paid proper homage to the likes of Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, A. Phillip Randolph, Rosa Parks, Whitney Young, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, etc., these Civil Rights leaders paved the way that he might sit in the White House today.
This writer was explaining to his daughter that blacks were killed, lynched, beaten and were the victims of various types of physical violence during the turbulent Civil Rights era. President-elect Obama is the beneficiary of that struggle and sacrifices that were waged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those brave black and poor Civil Rights workers who stood up against some vicious tobacco chewing rednecks in the Confederate South and the Confederate North. They paid a price; they use to sing "I am not going to let anyone turn me around" and they understood the words of Patrick Henry, "Give Me liberty or give me death" and there is an old saying if you do not stand for something you will fall for anything.
African Americans after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the passing of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution which freed the slaves in theory from chattel slavery. African Americans from 1865-1877 during what was known as the Reconstruction Period started to make tremendous strides toward economic and political progress. Thus, during this twelve year stint in southern states black politicians were being elected to high State level political offices. For example, in Mississippi Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce, and Robert Smalls in South Carolina who served in the United States Congress. P.B.S Pinchback who was a Lieutenant Governor and for over two months served as governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction. (Reference: John Hope: “From Slavery to Freedom”).
But all this progress was turned back with United States Government cut a deal with the south and removed federal troops who were there to enforce federal law. Thus, nineteen (19) years later the courts ushered in one of the most infamous U.S. Supreme Courts decision within the history of African American—the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which once again the high court legalized and institutionalized racism within the United States. The United States Supreme Court essentially said that in all matters of social, political and economic that segregation (separate but equal) was constitutional and could be practiced as a matter of law. This law was the mother of all Jim Crow laws which led to further racial segregation and discrimination—fostering racial hate, hate crimes, race riots, lynching, etc. Dr. King referred to America as the greatest purveyor of violence and she was hypocritical to criticize other nations and was unwilling to look in the mirror at how she was treating the African American. (Reference: W.E.B Dubois; “Black Reconstruction in America”).
King was born on January 15, 1929 during the Great Depression and just thirty-three (33) years after the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decision and grew-up in the Jim Crow south of Atlanta, Georgia where he witness racial politics at its best. He was trained at three fine institutions of higher learning—Morehouse College, Crozier College and Boston University where he received a doctorate degree in religion. This writer does not believe early on that Dr. King visualized himself as a leader of the black multitudes; I believe that he would have been satisfied serving as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, as opposed to being a leader of a mass movement. Sometime history finds us and it is mere accidental that we are led to certain stations in life but Dr. King was destined to be a modern day prophet, one who changed the outcome of humanity and this was a reality he could not escape. (Reference: Martin Luther King and James M. Washington; “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.”)
Moreover that does not mean that he was above reproach nor does it implies or insinuate that perhaps I do not have any disagreements ( Separation versus Integration) with his philosophy, strategy, and tactics. What ever disagreements I may have, it does not rise to the level of me breaking ranks with a giant of a man. King understood best the words of one of the greatest rappers, poets and spoken word artist in Gil Scott Heron when he said, "the motherfucking dogs are in the streets"
King vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and as he grew politically, he openly condemned United States aggression in South East Asia. He stated: "Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967).
King by 1967 became one of the most dangerous leaders in America because he was growing politically and he had made some ideological transitioning beyond the Civil Rights movement and had come to recognize that the true struggle was international, which involved a struggle for human rights. Some of Dr. King's top advisors like Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young advised King not to make this transition because it was a lot more political and expansive in ideology.
Dr. King stated: "Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don’t mix," they say. "Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?" they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight." (Reference: King speech Beyond Vietnam April 4, 1967. New York, N.Y.).
Dr. King as he evolved politically became a target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its zealous director J. Edgar Hoover and was covertly scrutinized under Cointelpro (FBI and the US Government Counter Intelligence Program). J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with all black leadership from all political spectrums. King advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent protest and used tactics like boycotts, marches, sit-ins, freedom rides, etc., to force America uphold the laws which in 1954 the United States Supreme Court pursuant to Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson had declared “separate but equal as being unconstitutional. (Reference: Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall; The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (South End Press Classics Series).
Dr. King led marches and demonstrations to force America to abide by its laws to end segregation and he went on a campaign to desegregate the south by any means necessary of course non-violently. King's agitation led to the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson passing perhaps two of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of black America, which was the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act these laws solidified black Americans status in this country as "Americans" and in theory opened up the door for full citizenship and public accommodation.
However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept their eyes on the "Prince of Peace" and FBI director Hoover sent agent provocateurs to infiltrate King's organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and spied and eavesdropped on some of Dr. King's most private and intimate conversations. Hoover had a mandate to infiltrate and disrupt all progressive black leadership and Dr. King and Elijah Muhammad (leader of the Nation of Islam) was one and two respectively on that list. The Cointelpro agenda was revealed via the Freedom of Information Act and the public acquired thousands upon thousands pages of documents relating to Hoover and his FBI surveillance plan. (Reference: Mark Lane and Dick Gregory; “Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King”).
Hoover was obsessed with any black leader that he thought had the ability to unify and electrify the masses or what he called a "Black Messiah". No doubt the United States Government can not escape culpability in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that took place on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. James Earl Ray was a pasty, a fall guy and the former President John F. Kennedy and his brother, the former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy were part of the United States Government conspiracy aimed at Dr. Martin Luther King. However, the Kennedys have this untainted historical place in the hearts of many African Americans who have lived through the Civil Rights era but only if they knew the dirty tricks of Kennedys relative to Dr. King and other black leaders of that era. (Reference: Philip H. Melanson: “The Murkin Conspiracy: An Investigation into the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”).
Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis he was there to speak and rally on behalf of sanitation workers (garbage collectors) and demand better working conditions for poor black and white workers. King grew to understand that inequality between wealth and labor (labor and the means of production created an antagonistic contradiction between the "haves and have nots") for this position he was called a socialist, as if that label represented something bad.
King stated: "When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions of civil services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison." (Reference: Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967).
I am socialist and if we had any damn sense the entire 40 to 50 million Africans living in America would be Socialist. Like Dr. King, I am against exploitation and I am against that one (1) percent of the population hoarding ninety five (95) percent of the world's wealth and resources; if that makes me a socialist, then I will wear that title with the highest honor and if Dr. King was a live today, I am quite sure he would stand shoulder to shoulder with me.
Dr. King would be in total opposition to the Zionist State of Israel who ended the year and started the New Year in 2009 killing innocent Palestinian men, women, and children on the Gaza Strip. What is taking place in Gaza is a criminal act and should be condemned by all civilized people of the earth. There are forty-one (41) Congressional Black Caucus Members (CBC) and there should have been a collective statement, a resolution of sought issued condemning Israel for this unlawful act of aggression against the Palestinian people. Hamas was chosen as a democratic elected government and do not the Palestinians have the right to self-determination.
King said injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. I have not heard the so-called black leaders nor the religious community stand-up and condemn what the Israeli military is doing in Gaza. Yet, many of them for the next two weeks will be putting on public programs honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and telling how they are followers of his philosophy. But King would not be sitting silent and watching the Palestinian people being slaughtered on the Gaza Strip and Gaza City go up in flames and not raise a voice of opposition. These are hypocrites and liars.
Former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney is one of the few black leaders that have stood up to condemn Israel for its aggression in Palestine. Everyone around the world knows that there is not an Arab military unit in the region that is comparable to the highly technical and sophisticated arm forces of the Israelis. The Palestinians are not a military match to the Israelis and this is why this onslaught should be condemned. Thus, ironically this is the home of Jesus and yet violence and oppression is occupying the Holy Land. If Israel claims a right to exist then it can not deny the indigenous people that same right. Lets honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the right way and stand up against injustice where ever we find it on the earth.
Related: The Dream Lives On: 40 After MLK
"Learning about the legacy of Martin Luther King, as a child, was something that was as normal for me as was learning about the other important things in life; the idea of how important it was to not use violence for the furtherance of one’s goal was not merely King’s message, it was the message , and yet, how much has that message been heeded? After forty years how much more is needed before that dream is realized?"