(FinalCall.com) – The laudatory words and praises of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have already begun. Soon the TV commercials and corporate ads will be running, pitching products in the name of the great dreamer and tagging business and product names onto banners, programs and souvenirs to mark the 21st observance of the King federal holiday.
It is one thing to praise a man from the lips. It is another to follow a man in the spirit and manner that would be fitting, especially for a man who laid down his life in pursuit of high ideals and in accord with principles that he taught.
Unfortunately many who will heap praise on Dr. King over the next couple weeks will offer lip profession with no intent to take up the banner he hoisted for equal opportunity, non-violence and justice for all. They will freeze the civil rights icon in 1963 on the National Mall and quote from his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. They will hold hands, write a few checks, stage some photos and then get back to business as usual, and their business as usual will have nothing to do with the work of peace, ending poverty or calling for an end to an unjust war.
Others will twist Dr. King’s words and, in the name of a colorblind society, work to stop his people and others denied a fair chance from enjoying greater opportunity. They will talk of his dream for peace and plot wars against countries in the Middle East. They will talk of moral leadership but pursue immoral foreign policy objectives and eagerly seek to exploit the darker and poorer people of the earth.
Words meant to awaken and inspire will be used to pacify and proclaim victory. “We have come so far,” they will say. “Dr. King would be proud,” they will say.
Would he be proud to know his country lied and connived to go to war and kill thousands of people? Would he be proud to know that young people from the slums of Midwestern cities, West Coast barrios and shacks in Appalachia are recruited to fight and die in countries they probably couldn’t locate on maps? Would he be proud to hear of job losses, home losses, and the loss of hope? Would he be pleased to listen to presidential hopefuls talk about saving the middle class and offering few words for the poor? Would he be proud to know millions still go to bed hungry in America? Would he rejoice to know that many veterans of the Vietnam War, a war he tried stop, are sleeping on steam grates, trying to stay warm?
Would he rebuke his worshippers? Would he call them workers of iniquity? Would he disown them?
Would he say, “You didn’t clothe me. You didn’t feed me. You didn’t give me shelter.” And, when they point to the monuments, the street signs, the awards, the dinners, the concerts, the posters, the trinkets, and ask, “When did we not serve you?” Would he respond, “As you have not done this to the least of these my brethren, you have also not done so unto me.”
America loves to offer a version of Dr. King. They want to promote and market pieces of Dr. King, the non-violent piece, the love piece, the “I Have A Dream” piece. They don’t want the total man. They don’t want the real man, who just might inspire people to ask questions about why the world is the way it is, and why can’t it better.
Let’s get acquainted with the real Dr. King, a man of principle, a man who judged America and the sanctity of human life by a single standard.
“A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle (for civil rights and against poverty). It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor–both Black and White–through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such,” said Dr. King, in his historic 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam,” at Riverside Baptist Church in New York, a year before his murder.
“Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”
With words like these, Dr. King went from Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1963, after the Dream speech, to one guilty of “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,” in the eyes of the magazine.
Last October, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan cited the death march that plagues Black America, the continued burden of White supremacy and oppression, God’s divine judgment against America and the need for the children of former slaves to separate from the children of their slave masters.
We don’t honor Dr. King by simply lauding his person and image, and not embracing his cause. Injustice still reigns in America and the world still suffers from her arrogance and abuse of power. We honor Dr. King by acting in the cause of freedom, justice and equality and challenging the recalcitrant forces that refuse to stop their exploitation and oppression.
Let’s honor Dr. King by taking a stand and warning America that she must change, or she will fall, just as other unjust empires have fallen. Or as he said, “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”