Yesterday marked the 48th Anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. The Reverend King was to my mind the greatest American of the 20th Century, with few competitors that even come close to his intelligence, his courage, or his grace. This is not hagiography, because to wrap Dr. King in that mantle would not do justice to his greatness, nor to his significance in American history. America has sanitized the truth of MLK’s great works by giving him a national holiday, which like our other national holidays, is subsumed by commercialization, by bland platitudes delivered in 30 second spots on TV and by days off where we are exhorted to buy things at phony sales.
Our America is a land whose economic foundation was built upon the backs of humans who were kidnapped from their homelands; weaned for fortitude in the hot and stinking holds of deadly slave ships; auctioned like cattle at open air markets; and beaten sometimes to death, or to the point of death, by cruel plantation owners whose only real skills were a sadistic nature and an enjoyment of brutality. As humans do, the slave owners fancied themselves aristocratic, even heroic defenders of White exceptionalism. Their Clergymen developed a form of Christianity directly at odds with Jesus’ teachings, but supremely satisfying to those who benefited greatly by enslaving others.
To almost all humans who can truly think and opine, slavery is an abomination and so the days of reckoning for the Southern Slavers came with an ignominious defeat in the Civil War. Then, however, Abraham Lincoln was murdered and a “single assassin” became the putative scapegoat to hide a more widespread and politically embarrassing conspiracy. Lincoln’s mercy toward the defeated South had allowed their representatives to once again poison the halls of Congress, with the stench of their hatred and bigotry. These Southern poltroons by threatening Lincoln’s successor with impeachment managed to curtail the Lincoln plan for Reconstruction and the rights of citizenship for the former slaves. By the development of State approved White terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the freed former slaves were subject to unspeakable violence, lynching and terror. This State approved terrorism, became normalized into the policy of Segregation, which in essence reintroduce the sensibilities of slavery into Southern society.
At the same time those artists of Southern sensitivity, or sensibility began dominating American media with fantasies of the “Heroic Southern Rebels.” Perhaps the apotheosis of this Southern Art as Propaganda was the execrable Birth of a Nation. The film is a paean to the Ku Klux Klan and stereotypes Black people as sub-human. Because the Director, D.W. Griffith used quite innovative techniques of film making on this film, for many years that followed its’ 1915 release it was considered among the greatest films ever made. This despite its’ virulently racist depictions is merely an example of the blindness of White Privilege. Lauding Birth of a Nation for its’ innovation is the equivalent to me of that hoary old joke: Aside from That Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Suffice it to say that “birth” was but one example, among so many, that represented the plethora of propaganda sanitizing Segregation’s murderous oppression and romanticizing the South’s odious romanticized version of the Civil War.
Although overlooked and downplayed by many mainstream White historians, Black Americans never gave up their struggle for political and social equality. This was even though the State sponsored segregation in the South and the less open but just as cruel segregation in the rest of our country, could turn ugly and deadly towards those people of color who opposed it. Perhaps the break point came in the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which held that the segregation doctrine of separate but equal was a ruse of oppression.
Into the ferment caused by the Brown decision came Martin Luther King. His insight and guiding inspiration was the use of revolutionary non-violence by Gandhi to gain the independence of India. MLK saw that America had rarely eschewed the use of violence and murder to continue oppressing Black People, even as it styled itself the “land of the free”. King’s genius was that by forcing the murderous nastiness of American racism out into the open the Nation would be shamed by seeing the horror of the repression over what should have been the normal rights of people of color.
Dr. King’s success and indeed it was a marvelous success, despite the fact that virulent racism and overweening White privilege still characterize our country, was such that he became vengefully hated by many Americans. This included many in Local, State and the Federal Government as demonstrated by the many Governmental actions towards MLK. Much of this fear and hatred among the American establishment came to a head when Reverend King came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. It was one thing, though upsetting to many, when King challenged the evil of segregation. It was quite another when he began to challenge the orthodoxy of the Cold War mentality, that had bi-partisan agreement upon its’ aggression towards other nations.
I believe that the final straw that marked Martin Luther King of death was that he had begun a movement for economic equality for ALL Americans, despite their skin color, or ethnicity, This was Poor People’s Campaign and its’ attack on the American capitalist status quo was intolerable to the oligarchs who really run America. The serious death threats began and kept escalating to the point where I am convinced that Dr. King knew they were going to murder him. They finally did murder him 48 years ago in a Memphis Motel and the story of his killing is a tale of conspiracy more complex than then what we were told. That Martin Luther King kept on in the face of what seemed certain death, is why he was not only a very great human, but a human blessed with the grace of the righteous. His skills as an orator and motivator were far beyond anyone of his time, or our time. That and his superior intelligence is what made him such a great threat to the powers that be. Below is a video of the speech he gave on the night before he died, which show he knew death was near. Following it is perhaps his greatest speech as he laid out his vision for the future. His dream has yet to be achieved, but it is my dream and the dream of so many millions, that the speech serves as a rallying cry to the barricades.