WILL THE REAL Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. please stand up? Don’t give me the “dreamer” King that America force-feeds us. I want the militant, warrior King who was gunned down for his political views. Give me the freedom-fighter King who railed against the Vietnam War and provided inspiration to the anti-war movement with his “Breaking the Silence” speech in 1967.
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America wants that King to stay buried in an Atlanta grave. Our young learn about the whitewashed King: a pacifist, non-violent idealist who only wanted integration with the slave-master’s children.
Today’s future Black leaders are not afraid of White people. They have freedom on their minds. They’re guided by the music of Tupac Shakur: “Help me raise my Black nation; reparations are due.” They don’t scratch where they don’t itch, and they don’t laugh when they’re not tickled. This fearless generation has no love for non-violent, turn-the-other cheek solutions to violent attacks by lynch mobs and police with guns and hoses. They are fueling a revolution where either we will all be free of racism, injustice and oppression, or we will all be dead.
They may learn to recite the 1963 March on Washington “I Have a Dream” speech, but their souls yearn for what King wrote from the Birmingham jail: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
They need to know that he said, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
King has been reduced to what the Rev. Michael Eric Dyson of DePaul University calls a “safe Negro,” a romantic dreamer who doesn’t make White people uncomfortable. In his book “I May Not Get There With You,” Dyson explains that King was much more than a dreamer. The real King, according to Dyson, was far more radical than the one served for holiday dining on the third Monday in January.
America wants, as it did in King’s day, to maintain social order. Schools lead the charge by teaching a mild-mannered history lesson that seeks to pacify instead of inspire. “They won’t teach about the revolutionary King who hung out with Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), loved Marcus Garvey and admired the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” said community activist and King lecturer, Steve Cokely.
“Schools will never teach that Dr. King. It’s our responsibility to fill in the blanks for what Dr. King stood for. The essence of that is hidden in the reasons why he was assassinated.” Why was he killed in 1968? As long as he was preaching, “We shall overcome” he was allowed to live. But as he evolved, his work took him from the South to the North, where racism is an entirely different animal.
King began to accuse Northern Whites of “psychological and spiritual genocide.” Dyson writes that King said, “I’m tired of marching for something that should have been mine at birth.” He began to expand his platform from racial-justice issues to mainstream economic and political issues, which took him out of his place as a “Negro leader” and made him a greater threat to the White power structure. A growing number of people–including some poor Whites–found he had a greater appeal, as he now was speaking to their plight in America.
But our children rarely hear about that work. They don’t know that he said, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” Or that he spoke against the triplets of misery: racism, militarism and poverty. Speaking on the Vietnam War, he said, “We are criminals in that war, and we have committed more war crimes than any other nation, and I will continue to say it.”
Having said that, what would King say about today’s war? We’ll never know. Unless we teach our children about the radical King, and how to think critically, the real Dr. Martin Luther King will never stand up.
(Nisa Islam Muhammad is a staff writer for The Final Call.)