Today, I planned on looking at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, but in terms of the civil rights leader’s views as an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. However, it turns out that many others had the same idea. What more could I add?
At the very least, I would like to share a number of the articles I found, as most were published today. Then I would like to talk about why this underrated aspect of MLK is so important in this day and age.
Mic Staff. “Artist creates ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ memes to stop people from whitewashing MLK.” Mic. 16 Jan 2017. Web. Retrieved 15 Jan 2018. <https://mic.com/articles/165598/artist-creates-letters-from-birmingham-jail-memes-to-stop-people-from-whitewashing-mlk>.
On Sunday, January 15, 2017, a graphic designer by the name of Daniel Rarela took to Twitter and shared some images that had quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King. Rarela had a combination of old images, some of Dr. King, and some newer ones that showed young people protesting. The quotes came from MLK’s April 16, 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Rarela, who was inspired by contemporary artists like Barbara Krueger, made the images and posts because he didn’t want the reverend’s legacy to be whitewashed on yet another Martin Luther King Day.
The Seattle Times
Talton, Jon. “King on capitalism: The uncomfortable MLK.” The Seattle Times. 11 Jan 2018. Web. Retrieved. 15 Jan 2018. <https://www.seattletimes.com/business/economy/king-on-capitalism-the-uncomfortable-mlk/>.
Jon Talton, who describes himself as a capitalist, took the time to point out one key quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that revealed the reverend’s criticism of capitalism toward the end of his life.
We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent.
MLK’s way of thinking might not have drastically changed over the course of his life but after a while, he became increasingly critical of American capitalism. In particular, he complained about the systems that kept segregation in place and locked prospective workers out of the job market. While things have improved with regards to race relations ever since, we still have a ways to go.
Peterson, James Braxton. “Commentary: Martin Luther King Jr. Tried to Warn Us About Donald Trump.” Fortune. 15 Jan 2018. Web. <http://fortune.com/2018/01/15/martin-luther-king-jr-day-federal-holiday-donald-trump/>.
As the title of this piece suggests, James Braxton Peterson expressed that Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to warn Americans about a demagogue like the one who currently resides in the White House. Peterson laments over “the travesty of the white evangelical embrace of Trumpism.” Peterson also pointed out how that many of the U.S. current policies (included or foreign policy and the recent tax bill) will make it harder for the very people King was advocating for. In addition, our current foreign policies threaten to break down international relationships and put us closer to a nuclear war with North Korea.
The Washington Post
I should note here that The Washington Post (along with The New York Times) were “liberal” publications which turned on King when his speech and writings started to include socialistic and anti-Vietnam messages. That said, these are some very good articles I found on WaPo:
It’s time to reclaim the true Martin Luther King
Rickford, Russell. “It’s time to reclaim the true Martin Luther King.” The Washington Post. 15 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/01/15/its-time-to-reclaim-the-true-martin-luther-king/>.
This year, Russell Rickford made a call for radicalism, in terms of getting together and protesting inequality. He lamented that Martin Luther King, a radical at heart, suffered even after death because MLK’s legacy was sanitized by the governmental and economic forces that he was fighting against. Today, King is not only used as a symbol of American exceptionalism but as a prop for the wealthy to establish their own moral authority.
Mr. President, read this sermon by Martin Luther King Jr.
King, Colbert I. “Mr. President, read this sermon by Martin Luther King Jr.” The Washington Post. 15 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/01/15/mr-president-read-this-sermon-by-martin-luther-king/>.
Colbert I. King said the Donald Trump would have done well to read an April 7, 1957 sermon that Martin Luther King delivered in Montgomery, Alabama — or had it read to him. In the sermon, “A Birth of a Nation,” King related the American struggle for equality with the struggles in developing nations, like Guana. In March 1957, Guana had won its independence.
Colbert I. King laments that Trump had no sense of his history, let alone knowledge of the places Trump had recently lambasted. For example, Ghana currently has a $43 billion gross domestic product and Botswana (which gained its independence in 1966) currently has $7 billion of reserves of foreign exchange and gold.
Martin Luther King’s activism points to a way forward for the left — but not how we might imagine
Lacroix, Patrick. “Martin Luther King’s activism points to a way forward for the left — but not how we might imagine.” The Washington Post. 15 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/01/15/martin-luther-kings-activism-points-to-a-way-forward-for-the-left-but-not-how-we-might-imagine/>.
Patrick Lacroix expressed a desire for liberals to rekindle what he said was a religious left movement in part started by Martin Luther King, Jr. Lacroix pointed out that the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s soon found allies in Jewish and Catholic leaders and King, himself a pastor, emerged as the preeminent leader of the entire movement. However, the religious left movement came to be overshadowed by religious right activism, a response to the former.
Benbow, Candice. “The Gentrification Of MLK: How America Intentionally Misrepresents Our Radical Civil Rights Leader.” Essence. 15 Jan 2018. Web. <https://www.essence.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr-gentrified-whitewashed-american-racism>.
Candice Benbow wrote that the image of Martin Luther King has been purposely whitewashed over the years in order to suit the ends of the same type of people who opposed him when he was alive.
This is the heart of the post:
The universal adoration of Dr. King can only be described as a willful decision to mischaracterize his person and work. Detaching Dr. King from his radical, socialist, left-leaning politics is the only way many Americans who now praise him can do so with (what they think is) a clear conscience.
White Americans love to paint Dr. King as a passive, nonviolent Christian who had a dream and believed racial unity was possible if everyone worked together. This King makes them feel good about their levels of inaction. He assumes whatever guilt they might have about not doing enough to hold their own family members and colleagues accountable for their bigotry because he calls for those with less power to do as much work as the powerful. Their version of Dr. King does not mind when his words are intentionally taken out of context to justify reconciliation without accountability. Yet their sanitized version of Martin Luther King, Jr. is not who he was at all.
Essentially, many of the people who have canonized MLK do so in order to silence their opposition to him and to escape guilt. But King was “a man who consistently held America’s feet to the fire because he knew it always had the capacity to be better.” And since he challenged numerous institutions, particularly those that enabled and facilitated racial and economic inequality, he was a radical. Unfortunately, those forces King fought against are still alive and kicking today and they are trying to shut down activists who are fighting against them.
Hendricks, Obery M., Jr., Ph.D. “The Uncompromising Anti-Capitalism of Martin Luther King Jr.” IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century). 15 Jan 2018. Web. <https://ibw21.org/commentary/uncompromising-anti-capitalism-martin-luther-king-jr/>.
Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. wrote to say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fierce opponent of capitalism. While he might be described as a democratic socialist, he advocated for any system that could be used to eradicate poverty and give people an equal say in their government. Modern-day capitalism flies in the face of those ideas, and it was an insult to King’s faith.
My Thoughts About Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy
While people like to point to King’s legacy of nonviolent protest, he was a much deeper person than he was given credit for. When we look at his words, we will not just see a self-reflection, but his commentary on the movement he helped to lead, why it was important, and his concerns about the resistance civil rights activists faced from whom they were told were their allies.
What Rickford said was true because Martin Luther King talked more about economic inequality toward the end of his life. King started to advocate for changes that would not only lift up people of color but poor white people. The fact of the matter was that modern capitalism has left people behind and in many cases that has been by design.
At the same time, people have used the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the black struggle to make harsh comparisons toward our youth and today’s activists. We are told some of the same things that King lamented over, like being told, “These protests are divisive,” or we are told that we have never seen real suffering.
The sad part is we are often being told these things by people who have never really suffered. Thus, the legacy of Dr. King is being taken from us as an example of why justified agitation is important and given back to us as a hallowed out symbol of racial equality (which we have not really achieved). Thus, the tidbits of truth serve as “critical weapons in the battle over public memory.”
By the Way …
This year is one of those years when Martin Luther King Day falls on the same day as the civil rights leader’s birthday. The would have been King’s 89th birthday.