Rev. William Barber, an indisputable champion of the poor and a consistent voice demanding an end to poverty, may have made a serious moral and ethical error that effectively placed him outside of the “Kingian” framework that informed Dr. King’s work especially during the last year of his life. In an attempt to make a point about the flawed priorities of the duopoly, Dr. Barber wrote in an email to the “movement family” on Saturday, April 30, 2022 that, “despite the political gridlock on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats have acted swiftly to approve historic military aid to Ukraine. In the face of such a moral imperative, it would be anathema for either party to ask, “How are we going to pay for it?”
Martin Luther King Jr
On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most significant speeches of his career. In “Beyond Vietnam - Time to Break Silence ” King declared his unequivocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. His very public break with Lyndon Johnson was greeted with derision, including from his own allies, who believed that the president was an ally who should not be attacked. The NAACP board passed a resolution calling King’s statement a “serious tactical mistake” that would neither “serve the cause of civil rights nor of peace.” The media joined in the condemnation, with the New York Times characterizing his comments as “facile” and “slander.” Even Black newspapers such as The Pittsburgh Courier judged his remarks to be “tragically misleading.”
This is the first installment of the series, "Reclaiming History from the Revisionists". In this episode we take a closer look at an often suppressed aspect of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many throughout mainstream US society do they best, year after year, to suppress the revolutionary and radical aspects of MLK. They don't want youth to know why the United States government vilified and targeted this man. The do this, in part, to prevent others from following in the enormous footsteps of this social justice giant. We must do our part to expose this often untaught history to as many as we can, especially the youth. A brighter and better future depend on it.
It was appropriate today, as we mark the national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, to re-read ‘A Time to Break the Silence,’ his most powerful speech, given on April 4, 1967, just a year before his tragic murder in Memphis. It is a speech that stands the test of time; much of it is as relevant today as it was in 1967, when war was raging in Vietnam. I would urge people to read or listen (link above) to that profound and prophetic speech in its entirety. He said, “There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.” With climate catastrophe and nuclear madness moving at a rapid rate towards a potential apocalypse for all humanity, King’s words resonate with, as he said, “the fierce urgency of now.”
We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day not only to commemorate King’s historic role in overcoming racism and other injustice, but because his work and vision remain relevant. Today’s persistent racism in policing, health care, housing, and elsewhere, and attacks on voting rights — particularly for Black Americans — show that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not just about the past or the South. King got arrested in Alabama. He marched in Chicago. He spoke truth to power in Washington. He worked with countless activists and ordinary people to take action that transformed the Jim Crow South and impacted this whole country. But his outlook went well beyond our borders. Martin Luther King was an internationalist.
In 2004, journalist Ron Susskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” He dismissed Susskind’s assumption that public policy must be rooted in “the reality-based community.” “We’re history’s actors,” the advisor told him, “…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America’s international power and authority.
“You are done. There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” That’s the shocking ending to the infamous letter Civil Rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received in 1964 essentially urging him to commit suicide. The letter and accompanying package containing blackmail were sent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as King quickly caught on. While the full, unredacted letter was finally published by the New York Times in 2014, the audio recordings of an extensive FBI wiretapping operation targeting King have been sealed until 2027.
In a posthumously published essay, Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that the “black revolution” had gone beyond the “rights of Negroes.” The struggle, he said, is “forcing America to face all of its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” But it had not started out that way. Over the course of a decade, the black struggle opened up a deeper interrogation of U.S. society, and King’s politics traversed the same course.
We are facing converging global crises — a horrific pandemic, worsening economic inequality both in the United States and globally, climate change and the continuing scourge of systemic racism around the world. What would Martin Luther King Jr. think or advise if he were alive today? What might he say in these days after the Capitol Building was attacked by a primarily white mob that was seeking to usurp the results of a free and fair election and implement an America First agenda through violent force? To get to these answers, we need to consider one of King’s most important and overlooked pieces of writing, The World House, a chapter in the last book he wrote, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
In the last years of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected duopoly politics and challenged the roots of the crises we face, what he called the triple evils of racism, capitalism and militarism. As many people active in the Civil Rights Movement moved into the Democratic Party, Dr. King taught that the movement must be independent of political parties and be "the conscience" of them. For this, Dr. King was shunned and hated. In this interview from MLK Day in 2015, Kevin Zeese and I spoke with Kymone Freeman, co-founder of We Act Radio in Washington,DC, JasiriX, an activist and artist out of Pittsburgh, PA, and Cat Brooks, an activist in Oakland, CA about the revival of the radical Dr. King and how they are continuing his work in their communities.
Activist and prison-industrial complex abolitionist Mariame Kaba celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by praising NU Community Not Cops and speaking to the importance of mutual aid and political organizing in Wednesday’s MLK Dream Week virtual keynote. The keynote, which was broadcast to over 1,000 attendees, began with a virtual performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Northwestern Community Ensemble members and alumni. Kaba then delivered her speech in which she laid out core tenets of abolitionist practice, tying the current movement to King’s principles. “Abolitionists have a lot to learn from Dr. King,” Kaba said.
We kill the most beautiful among us—anyone, it seems, who reveals the nastier, brutish elements of American society and has the audacity to imagine, demand even, a better path: peace, unity and tolerance. Abraham Lincoln, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and so many others. This year marks the 50th anniversary of King’s tragic assassination, and though countless publications will brim with commemorations and retrospectives of this misunderstood icon, most will miss the mark. Long ago co-opted and sanitized by mainstream political figures, the King of memory bears little resemblance to the radical, complex man himself.
The CIA shadowed Martin Luther King Jr. during his stay at a Miami hotel in July 1966 with the help of a spy whose identity still remains a secret a half-century later. The revelation is found in a 48-page file on King, portions of which were made public late last year, along with thousands of JFK assassination files. President Trump has ordered all federal agencies to release the rest of their JFK-related files by April 26, a directive which covers the agency's King file as well. Trump's order, issued last October, exempts from disclosure only "the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living." So if the CIA's spy is deceased, his or her name is supposed to be made public this week. If not, the CIA has got their back.
The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day. In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.