After more than a decade of serious contemplation, King unwaveringly concluded that no war is worth sacrificing children to. He said, "More and more I have come to the conclusion that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons of war totally rules out the possibilities of war ever serving again as a negative good."
These were not the words of a foolish idealist, but instead, those of an educated man, aided with as much if not more philosophical and historical wisdom, not to mention real-world experience than any one in U.S. Senate today or the White House. And while we often hear his name, most Americans, of all races, fail to adequately honor his legacy. To truly honor King, we must renounce war and prejudice, not simply read, watch, quote or reflect on his famous, "I Have A Dream" speech. That’s just the starting point.
The problem with the way great people like King are honored is that their images are polished and cleaned for the masses. These Rockwellian images of picturesque people are then sold to the public as something they had always loved. In truth, King sacrificed himself for the sins of a bigoted nation; rather than coddling the American people, he challenged the white, indolent masses to be better human beings, to reach beyond their own self-interest. He also challenged African American civil rights advocates to look beyond their personal struggle, and stand up against the Vietnam War.
Nothing exemplifies the distortion of King’s legacy more fully than when President Bush made a mockery out of the 2003 MLK Jr. Day. Before the invasion of
To reclaim King, we should begin by touting his emphatic opposition to the military-industrial-complex, which ordinary Americans support each tax year. With the
This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, or injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
As we continue to spend $400 billion dollars on military spending and a less than $100 billion on Children’s Health, K-12 Education, and humanitarian foreign aid combined, that spiritual death looms terrifyingly near. Perhaps the best defense against terrorism would be to punish the war mongers who mare our democracy and threaten democratically elected leaders around the world whom they deem unacceptable such as Hugo Chavez in
The large power blocs talk passionately of pursuing peace while expanding defense budgets that already bulge, enlarging already awesome armies and devising ever more devastating weapons . Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.
In addition to protecting King’s message of peace from the war hungry, we must defend his vehement vision of equality for all from today’s homophobes, pretending to be Christians. Joining Bush in bastardizing King’s legacy, in 2002 the Associated Press (AP) reported that a coalition of several organizations used the legacy of Martin Luther King to encourage voters to repeal
Yet those who knew him well, reject such claims. On
Most recently, Max Blumenthal reported that, during Justice Sunday II, Conservative Christian speakers evoked the memory of King and equated his civil rights struggle with the religious right’s own movement. According to Blumenthal, “born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson
The religious right’s business of hate and intolerance is about as far removed from King’s message of love and tolerance as hell is from heaven. King reproached the religious zealots of the world who saw religion as a weapon of hate, used to divide human beings rather than unite them.
But I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems .I’ve seen too much hate .I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. The beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God. He who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimately reality.
Beyond the issue of peace and brotherhood, perhaps the most neglected of King’s views is his support for altering the
We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small hearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity. The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered.
Considering the increasing concentration of wealth among the few, it’s no wonder King believed that American society needed to be restructured, and called for a broader distribution of wealth. According to a study by the Annie E. Casey, Ford and Rockefeller foundations, “one in every five U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level wage for a family of four” (Associated Press, October 11, 2004, “39M Americans in Working Poor Families.”) As a result, the study concludes “that nearly 39 million Americans, including 20 million children, are members of ‘low-income working families’ – with barely enough money to cover basic needs like housing, groceries and child care, the study found.” In his own day, King concluded that “an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring” and seriously questioned claims of private ownership of natural resources.
See my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, who owns the oil? You begin to ask the question, who owns the iron-ore? You begin to ask the question why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water? Now don’t think you have me in a bind today, I’m not talking about Communism .My inspiration didn’t come from Karl Marx. My inspiration didn’t come from Engels; my inspiration didn’t come from Trotsky; my inspiration didn’t come from Lenin .Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. The kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of Capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It’s found in a higher synthesis that can combine the truths of both.
King went on to add that “the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” (The original axis of evil, if you will.)
Additionally, one should also not overlook King’s approval of the separation of church and state. In an interview conducted by Playboy Magazine, amid his civil rights struggles and the Supreme Court’s then recent decision ruling mandated school prayer unlawful, King clearly stated his support for the court’s decision:
I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.
Above all else, King called on us to have a courageous conscience, unafraid of dissent or its consequence. When he was asked about his anti-war stand during the Vietnam War he answered simply: "Vanity asks the question ‘Is it popular?’ Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’" It is time we make a serious commitment to taking over where Dr. King left off, by standing for free speech, economic equality, and human rights, despite the corporate media’s influence on the American masses.
This year, instead of tuning in to some watered-down special on King’s life, pay homage to the message that defined the man by picking up the book “A Testament of Hope, the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.” or the CD collection, “The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..” And rather than passively appreciating his sacrifice, apply his vision, his dream to our world today: pick up the banner of peace, fight for LGBT rights, and politically punish politicians who cut funding for education, welfare and healthcare.
Just as King once wrote, "It is time that we stopped our blithe lip service to the guarantees of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," it is also time we also "stopped our blithe lip service" to King’s visionary pronouncements. Americans must wake to realize justice will not “unfold painlessly” and that it’s our duty to make King’s own vision of equality and justice a reality.
Jeff Nall is a community activist and freelance writer. He regularly contributes to publications such as Toward Freedom, the Humanist, and Impact Press. He lives with his wife and daughter in
Check out these tributes to King and his message of peace:
Code Pink video: http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?
True Majority tribute: