Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)
Originally published 1.17.11
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 10 years before I was born.
As an elementary, middle and high school student, I learned about him once a year through plays, books, lectures and his ever-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington. However, like many of my classmates at that time, I did not truly understand Dr. King.
Something happened while I was attending Prairie View A&M University that gave me a deeper understanding of Dr. King, especially the post-“I Have a Dream” Dr. King. I heard someone talking about how Dr. King was more than a dreamer.
I learned more about a wide-awake Dr. King that rallied against the Vietnam War to call on America to take care of its poor at home; a Dr. King that delivered an anti-war speech titled “Breaking the Silence” in 1967; a Dr. King that said, “I’m tired of marching for something that should have been mine at birth”; a Dr. King that was spied on and plotted against by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI COINTELPRO from 1961 to 1968; the Dr. King that was lied on by the government; the Dr. King that met one-on-one with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1966; the Dr. King that many in America did not like.
I was introduced to a different Dr. King than the one my teachers gave to me. This man wanted an end to what he called the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.”
This disturbed me, because I wondered why we we’re not taught these things about Dr. King early on in school. Unfortunately, this cycle continues in 2011 with schools force-feeding our young people a watered-down Dr. King by omitting his post-“I Have a Dream” years. Are our children being robbed?
“Celebrating” Dr. King’s birthday has even become a lucrative business for corporations and for those today that so-call “praise” him, but never would have been with him post-“I Have a Dream.”
The Dr. King of 1963 was not the same man in 1968. His life was cut short just as he was evolving in his tough pattern. We all evolve as human beings, but it seems as if we want to only minimize his impact to one speech. This is not to say I don’t think the speech was and is powerful—because I do.
Yes, Dr. King cared about the condition of Black people and called on us to do something for self, get better organized, build economically and grow in political power. Read this and more in his 1967 speech “The Black Power Defined.” I’m sure some will be quick to call this “separatism”, “Black nationalism” or “racism.”
In 1968, Dr. King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice and take a stand for the poor of all races in America. How much more could you and I do for the poor in our communities, cities, states and country?
To watch the likes of Glenn Beck and others lead a march on Washington in 2010 was one huge slap in the face to the legacy of Dr. King. Especially since Dr. King would be the target of networks like Fox. People like O’Reilly, Hannity, and Limbaugh would certainly call him “anti-American.”
If Dr. King were here today, I believe he would still be beating the drum of the anti-war movement and would not be silent. I believe he would oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe he would oppose what is being done to the Palestinian people. Furthermore, I can’t honestly think he would be encouraging our young people to join the military to go and fight unjust wars on foreign shores. What do you think?
Dr. King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King would have condemned the treatment of Hurricane Katrina survivors, he would have protested the Oscar Grant shooting, he would have opposed the bailout given to major corporations, and he would be addressing the hate being spewed in the name of politics and religion. Dr. King would be showing compassion for the people of Haiti.
In addition, he would want us to honor him; not with just parades, floats, songs, dance, plays, speeches, t-shirts, street signs or even a national day off from work. How about we teach more than the “safe version” of Dr. King? How about we fight for the poor? How about we accept responsibility to build our own communities?
It takes more than dreaming.
It takes action by all of us.
Video: “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”