Beyond the Dream: The Other Side of Dr. King

We want the real King (FCN/Perspectives, 01-20-2008)

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Photo: Robert W. Kelley/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES ( – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Greater Los Angeles proclaimed “We Still Have a Dream,” when it launched its King Week Festival in front of city hall.It also unveiled City Hall WATCH, an initiative to monitor hiring and employment practices and ensure fairness for Blacks in city government, public service and other appointed positions.


This year marks the 21st Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. It will include federal, state and local celebrations with the vast majority focusing on “King the dreamer,” who envisioned an America free of racism. That reference also freezes him in a moment in time — the 1963 March on Washington. There he gave the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. But a few years later, in 1967, he was denigrated by the media, shunned by many preachers and others who worked with him in the civil rights movement, and believed by some to be killed by the U.S. government for moving his battle beyond the domestic issue of equal justice to a demand for peace through an end to the Vietnam War and economic justice for the poor.

The SCLC Los Angeles initiative announced Jan. 11 falls in line with Rev. Dr. King’s dream of equality in economic opportunity and voting rights for the poor. However, reflection on Rev. Dr. King’s life, struggle and message recalls that he suffered death threats, hate mail and the firebombing of his home while his family was inside.He was even stabbed by a Black woman, believed mentally deranged, and endured an intense disinformation and surveillance campaign under the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Thus, while Rev. Dr. King was marching and advancing non-violent peaceful protest, and demanding integration, the government of the United States and its then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was authorizing wiretaps of his home and hotel rooms.

“We know in life that Dr. King was not a beloved figure by the government of this country.Their spying on him, attempts to neutralize him, having him stop talking about the Vietnam War is well documented and it’s only in death that this country, through pressure from other folks, has now tried to make it seem like everyone was behind Dr. King’s call for civil rights,” said Atty. Kamau Franklin of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

Rev. Dr. King spearheaded the historic 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which helped desegregate public transportation in Alabama and other non-violent protests across the south targeting Jim Crow segregation and striking at the “separate but equal” national policy which came from the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, decided in 1896.

He was a founding member of SCLC in 1957 and served as its first president until his assassination in 1968. The aims and goals of the organization were to “end segregation” and “that all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently,” according to its website, SCLC would coordinate non-violent activities to help bring an end to legal segregation throughout the south.

“There were many Baptist preachers that would not allow Dr. King to come into their church because he was rocking the boat.Unfortunately many of the preachers said just let things alone, even if they are dysfunctional or belittling to your race, they didn’t want to challenge status quo … That seems to be the way things are today … and I question whether or not we should expect them to because they didn’t in great numbers join the struggle when Dr. King was in it,” observed Rev. Eric Lee, president of the SCLC L.A. Chapter.

U.S. security agencies stalk King

White racists throughout the south, including the Ku Klux Klan, were the visible faces of Dr. King’s opposition, but as his message spread north to cities like Chicago, where he fought against housing discrimination in 1966, he was stoned by protesters and his attackers took on other forms.

Under the administration of President John F. Kennedy, through U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) began to target civil rights groups, their leaders, Black nationalist groups, and the Nation of Islam and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad.Dr. King was targeted as early as 1961, according to historical sources.

The U.S. feared Dr. King’s attraction and influence over masses of people and Mr. Hoover called Rev. King “the most dangerous Negro” to America’s future.

U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was considered an ally to Rev. Dr. King, who, on one hand, ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation in interstate travel to help the Freedom Rides throughout the south, but in 1963 he authorized the FBI to wiretap Dr. King’s telephones over concerns that he was a communist.

The FBI spread lies about Rev. Dr. King, calling him a communist, and a womanizer. It also wrote him a letter, encouraging him to commit suicide, or they would send recorded tapes of his private activities to his wife. When Rev. Dr. King stood on the principles of his convictions and refused to bow down to these threats, the FBI sent these tapes to his wife in an effort to destroy him.

Rev. Dr. King was the most prominent voice in the civil rights movement, but not the only voice demanding freedom, justice and equality in that era.There was Huey Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)–and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad meet in 1966. Photo: Final Call Archives

The Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam respected Dr. King, but disagreed with his strategy of non-violent direct action and integration. He called integration a “hypocritical trick,” used to deny Blacks the divine solution promised by Allah (God).

Mr. Muhammad stated in Message To The Black Man In America, pg. 308, that Dr. King’s efforts were good, according to his knowledge. Dr. King would have progressed more if he understood that justice was to come to his people through divine means, and not civil government, Mr. Muhammad said.

“He has been trying to do his best to get our people some justice in the way of civil rights.I believe that he means well, and I believe he would have done better if he had known more about the time and the people and the history and what must be done in such times,” Mr. Muhammad said during an interview with the National Educational Television Network, recounted in Message to the Black Man. (See related article, page 19).

During this period of U.S. racism and poverty, some organizations advocated nationalism, while others embraced the constitutional right to defend themselves with arms.Given their positions, government leaders saw Rev. Dr. King as “safer,” until his critique of U.S. international policy and his opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Observers note that Mr. Hoover and the FBI targeted all voices for justice for the poor, but deceived Dr. King through feigned acceptance and cooperation with him to support his message of non-violence and integration, hoping to combat the Black Power messages.

Rev. Dr. King met with the Hon. Elijah Muhammad in 1966, a year before an historic anti-war speech at Riverside Church in New York, increasing his criticisms of America’s Vietnam policy, shipping men, money and skills to the war overseas, rather than rehabilitating its poor at home.He was virulently attacked. One attack appeared in a New York Times editorial, “Dr. King’s Error,” which said, “to divert the energies of the civil rights movement to the Vietnam issue is both wasteful and self-defeating… Linking these hard, complex problems will lead not to solutions but to deeper confusion.” Leaders with the NAACP called it a “serious tactical error.” Time magazine, which named Dr. King “Man of the Year” in 1964, called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” Dr. King has “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people,” the Washington Post declared. Barry Goldwater, a Republican hopeful, said the words “could border on a bit of treason,” and the civil rights movement had suffered “irreparable harm.”

Although the support for Rev. Dr. King began to wane, he kept working and led a march in Memphis for striking sanitation workers.He gave his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top,” at Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3, 1968 and was assassinated the next day at the Lorraine Motel.

James Earl Ray was arrested and pleaded guilty to themurder, but then denied committing the crime and hinted at a conspiracy. He died in 1998.

The King family in 1998 also filed a one hundred dollar wrongful death conspiracy lawsuit against Memphis café owner Loyd Jowers and other unknown co-conspirators, alleging the murder was planned in his establishment, Jim’s Grill. The aim of the lawsuit was to uncover unknown government conspirators believed to be involved in Rev. Dr. King’s death. The court case was heard in Memphis, Tenn., and grew out of revelations that the bullets found in the gun at the scene did not match bullets taken from Rev. Dr. King’s body. A jury verdict was reached December 8, 1999, after a four-week trial. It found Mr. Jowers and other unnamed co-conspirators liable in the death of Dr. King.

According to Dexter King, speaking at a press conference after winning the civil suit, Mr. Jowers identified the shooter as Earl Clark, a deceased Memphis Police Department lieutenant.The family sought truth and transparency, not money, he said.

“There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr.And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief,” said Coretta Scott King during the press conference. The jury believed the conspiracy included the Mafia, state, local and federal government agencies that were “deeply involved in the assassination of my husband,” she said, according to transcripts of the press conference posted on the Atlanta-based King Center website.

Documents released last year revealed that Mrs. King was subjected to government surveillance for four years after her husband’s murder.

“The priority of Dr. King to eradicate racism, violence and poverty are still the priority within the civil rights community and the African American community today, but this country, this system, has never tried to remove these three ills from the battlefield of civil rights from yesteryear as it is today that we’re currently dealing with. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed cosmetically within this society,” said Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., president of the SCLC.

“For whatever reason, they supported each other, and though they were not there physically, they were there spiritually. We must all understand that it’s because of those men, and Ralph Abernathy, Joe Lowery, and others, and what they did and stood upon, we and I actually have a springboard. Likewise with Min. Farrakhan and what he’s doing with the N.O.I. that we’re working today holistically,” Dr. Steele said.

An important aspect of the freedom struggle, Dr. Steele continued, which is greater now than ever before, is the role the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam played, as well Dr. King, Min. Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X.

“There is unfinished business to close the gaps and even the playing field. On the football field you see blacks in great numbers, but in classrooms we’re sparse. There is March Madness all over the basketball court, but at graduation time there is May sadness,” said Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. “Dr. King’s work brought us a long way, but our job is to do the unfinished business to even the playing field, with access to healthcare, education, finance and business.”

The King federal holiday, marked annually on the third Monday in January, will be celebrated on Jan. 21. Dr. King was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Ga. Advocates had to fight 15 years for the federal holiday to be granted.