Does the World Really Know Martin Luther King, Jr.?

From the earliest grades of school, the American education system drills home a few unequal things about the history of Africans in America: the sum of Blacks’ history is slavery. Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolution, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. The education system of The United States lacks true representations of history and does not respect all cultures of the world -- by design. While Martin Luther King, Jr. is a worthy subject of study and a bona fide hero of the Diaspora, how much of MLK does the world really know?


With the passing of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a commemoration held in the United States capital of Washington, D.C. on August 28, 2013, the question remains: has life improved for Black Folk?


Work and organization from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the National Urban League brought over 250,000 people to the National Mall in 1963. The original march was a plan of action to put forth the injustices of this country in the struggle for jobs and freedom. The recent anniversary does not fulfill the spirit of the first march as it is set up as a celebration. As a celebration, the image and consciousness of King is reduced to fit the politics of the day.


The face put on for the anniversary may resemble some kind of stance on America's issues of “Jobs and Freedom,”; but is in vast contrast with the realities currently gripping the nation.  The Supreme Court recently overturned parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that many during the Civil Rights era fought for, giving power to states to change their voting laws without federal government approval. Already we are seeing laws constructed in Texas and North Carolina to marginalize and keep the poor of all colors, and Black and Latino communities out of the poll by requiring a government issued ID card. As laws are repealed, the realities of racial profiling have reached a terroristic scale in this country. Research by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in their report, “Operation Ghetto Storm,” has revealed that "Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child"i. Everyday terrorism in our communities committed by an occupied force of police. Instead of images of men, women, and children attacked by water hoses and dogs, in 2013 we have images of men, women, and children being shot in the back, and murdered in cold blood by police, security guards and vigilantes.  The same system that jailed King is now not convicting those who shoot our people in the street while carrying a badge to protect and serve.


While King’s thoughts on Black power are not as well-known as his non-violent ideology, King said: "We must also be the custodians of creative black power. We must find the positives in black power and not be afraid to affirm that we agree absolutely with these positives. I have said it so often, that our problem in the ghetto is that we are powerless and we must transform this powerlessness into creative power. We are in desperate need to find our identity. We need to be proud of our heritage. We need to be proud of being black and not ashamed of it."ii


After the March on Washington, MLK’s view on the “state of the movement” changed. While his work had largely focused on poverty and racism, King now declared the "Triple Evils" that must be confronted in our work for justice: Poverty, Racism, and Militarism. His direction on Militarism was most noted when in 1967, he publicly denounced the war in Vietnam, giving speeches like, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," and the infamous "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam".  Coming to this stance was no easy task for MLK who was constantly questioned by his people, his comrades and by the public as to how he could mix civil rights with peace. But the MLK we never hear about saw the "facile connection"iii between the war in Vietnam and the struggle for freedom in the States. As the United States has so quickly loaded up its military machine, this time for Syria, we are pressed to think about the major reasons MLK opposed the War in Vietnam. Many of his concerns still echo as true today. MLK observed America would never "invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of the poor"iv as long as wars continued to fuel imperialism and the hoarding of the world's resources. There was also MLK's recognition of the dichotomy of Black young men being sent across the world to fight for “liberties” that Black men and women were not allowed at home. He also acknowledged the irony of speaking out against "the violence of oppressed" abroad, without speaking against "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the United States.v 


Martin was a firsthand witness to brutal violence committed by the United States. His insistence on speaking truths that made making white society uncomfortable brought considerable resistance to the movement and numerous threats and attempts on his life. As he garnered more and more attention from the government, and, as we now know it, COINTELPRO - the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program which was active throughout the 60s - MLK had to take on armed security. COINTELPRO, a government agency at the time in operation under FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, used illegal, covert, and terroristic tactics and actions to kill, neutralize, and defame political organizations and men and women they targeted to prevent the "rise of a Messiah who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement."vi  If we can become aware of this activity after MLK’s death, we must not be naive that forces continue to work towards defaming and belittling the true Martin Luther King Jr., who was brave, bold and fighting for the liberation of his people and freedom for the world’s oppressed peoples.


This MAN, is now at times being marginalized as just a man with a dream. But did other leaders of different ideologies face the brutality he faced? His contributions to organization, courage and justice cannot be denied. The widening stance he took on all oppression and "barbaric white conduct”vii encompassed shared experiences many groups of people experienced from the same oppressor. Eradication of danger to his own people was not his only "dream," -- he also resisted domestic and global policy that continued oppression and manipulation of the world’s peoples and resources. Martin Luther King Jr. made the ultimate sacrifice in the movement, having his life taken by an assassin’s bullet one year to the day he delivered the "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" speech.


"To develop a sense of black consciousness and people hood does not require that we scorn the white race as a whole. It is not the race per se that we fight but the policies and ideology formulated by leaders of that race to perpetuate oppression."viii


With the continuing injustices of today, are there new methods to confront these issues? If Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, how would he move in relation to challenging the current policies and ideologies? Fighting for the poor would definitely be a part of MLK’s work. Today the jobless rates among Black people, is higher than it has ever been. In the first year of recording the employment statistic in 1954, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted Whites at 5%, and Blacks at a 9.9% jobless rate. Today, those same marks are 6.6% for Whites, and 12.9% for Blacks. When we look at jobless rates, police brutality, political prisoners, the Prison Industrial Complex and the “school-to-prison” pipeline... What would be MLK’s stance today? Would King’s direct action mean sit-ins at police stations, marches on local Police departments and corporations that refuse to employ our people? His confrontational style is vastly different from those collaborators we have in the limelight now who are like puppets, and who should be working for the people’s best interest. As Dr. King’s position evolved, he adapted to using armed guards for his personal protection and his family. Would he support Black gun clubs, and the concealing and carrying of weapons to defend Black people today? With the murder of Trayvon Martin, we know Dr. King would not sit by and preach from far away;, like the 'Dream Defenders,' King would have went to Florida and fought front and center. MLK probably wouldn’t have even been invited to the 50th anniversary of the March, if he took actions like he did in the past. The current crop of activist puppets do much talk in front of podiums and, on TV, but are they in the trenches fighting with and for the people as brother Martin did time and time again. We can only carry on the legacy of this Freedom Fighter, for our Black Consciousness makes us aware we are still fighting for jobs and freedom. ~ Rage Souljah


i - “Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killing of 313 Black people, by Police, Security guards & Vigilantes,”

ii - Martin Luther King Jr., “A New Sense of Direction,” Worldview Magazine, April 1, 1972.

iii - Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, April 4th 1967.

iv - ibid

v - Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, April 4th 1967.Ibid.

vi - Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Walls, Eds. The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Domestic Dissent, Boston, South End Press: 1990

vii - Martin Luther King Jr., “A New Sense of Direction,” Worldview Magazine, April 1, 1972. viii - Martin Luther King Jr., “A New Sense of Direction,” Worldview Magazine, April 1, 1972.

Leave a comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
6 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.