Dethroning a King:
The White Washing of Black History
If the late Civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was able to look down from Heaven at the numerous MLK Day memorial celebrations taking place across the country, I'm sure that he would have one question.
"Who are they talking about?"
Like many black historical icons,the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, has been victimized by revisionist pseudo-historians who take great liberty with the truth when discussing the life of this great man. . Although, he was assassinated over 40 years ago, every third Monday in January his legacy is murdered over and over again. The King who is glorified as the Prince of Peace bears little resemblance to the man who marched in cities from Mississippi to Illinois seeking socio-economic justice for African Americans.
It must be noted that while some Americans now wear the fact that they "marched with Dr. King" as a badge of honor, he was actually hated by many members of society both black and white, who thought that King's form of radical civil disobedience was moving America too fast.
Even those who initially supported his movement dropped him like a hot potato when he used his nonviolent philosophy in the context of opposition to the Vietnam War. Dr. King was considered the most dangerous man in America by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who launched a smear campaign to discredit King that plagued him until the end of his life.
It can be argued that many of the same corporations who are sponsoring MLK Day events and using his image to attract Black customers to their stores would themselves have been picketed by Dr. King if he were alive today. Also, even though many newspapers will devote a lot of ink towards the legacy of Dr. King, he would probably be considered persona non grada by today's newspapers, who would fear that giving the activist too much coverage may anger their advertisers.
While much attention is paid to his nonviolence "turn the other cheek" philosophy, in reality, Dr. King knew that the best way to hurt the rich and shameless person was not to hit them in their heads but in their wallets.Most Americans do not know that according to Kennth O'Reilly in his book "Black Americans: The FBI Files" at the time of his death, King was planning a Poor People's March which would have pressured the government to spend more money social programs. This surely did not sit well with the conservatives at the time who argued for smaller government.
It must also be noted that, while many churches in America will be singing "We Shall Overcome" during their morning services in honor of Dr. King, he was often criticized by his more conservative colleagues in the ministry. In his book "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65, historian Taylor Branch wrote that King was once "excommunicated" from the National Baptist Convention by the former head of the organization, Rev. J H Jackson.
Perhaps, the greatest myth that has been perpetuated regarding Dr. King was that his whole mission can be summed up in the "I have a Dream Speech, where he prophesied that " the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood." While this is the stuff that makes for good Hallmark greeting cards, it does not capture King's idea of race relations in its totality.
In his later years, undoubtedly effected by the growing militancy of black youth in America following the Watts Riot, as well as the activism of rival leaders such as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and Malcolm X, King was beginning to sound more like a Black nationalist than a staunch intergrationist.
Although , most people only remember the part of his last speech delivered on April 3, 1968, where he emotionally said that he had "been to the mountain top," in the same speech he not only called for economic sanctions against Coca Cola and Wonder Bread but also asked African Americans in Memphis Tennessee to take their savings out of the white owned banks and put them in black ones. Also, according to Dr. Devin Fergus in his work "Liberalism, Black Power and the Making of American Politics 1965-1980, the day of his assassination, King met with a gang called The Invaders, "a group patterned after the Black Panther Party" in order to "help the group secure funding for community programs."
If we truly want to celebrate the life of Dr. King, we must call for an end to revisionist history. Recent attempts to sanitize American history from the removal of the dreaded "n" word from Huckleberry Finn nor deleting references to slaver when reading the Constitution of the United States will move us forward as a nation. America must face the ghost of her past or forever be haunted by it.
As Dr. King said "truth crushed to the Earth, will rise again."
Paul Scott is a minister, writer and activist based in Durham NC. His blog is No Warning Shots Fired.com