Revisionism

Photo by Unseen Histories at Unsplash

Martin Luther King Day is observed in the United States of America on the third Monday of January each year. This year it fell on January 16. It is a day set aside to remember the life and legacy of one of America’s greatest moral heroes.

For those of us who lived through those times of civil disobedience, even for someone like me, living at a distance in Australia, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and still is an inspiration to stand for the highest principles of human dignity and justice. Even today, I find inspiration watching extracts of King’s speeches or the annual MLK Day Memorial Service telecast from his church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia.

I reprint a short article I read today in The Medium, a daily web-based collection of blogs, that reminds me to be careful about selective memory. The author is William Spivey, who writes about politics, history, education and race.

I hope you find it inspirational.

MLK Misremembered: The Inconvenient Truth About Martin Luther King, Jr.

His Words They Never Bring Up

There is the Martin that America claims as one of its greatest heroes, and the Martin that was for America to revere MLK as it now does. It had to forget what they thought about him while he lived and dilute and distill his message to reflect what is convenient.

The FBI tried to tie Martin Luther King to communism, in one report claiming he was a “whole-hearted communist who followed a Marxist-Leninist line.” The FBI attempted to link every radical civil rights movement to communism, including the NAACP, Black Panthers, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They infiltrated his organization, spread rumors, and planted fake news stories to discredit him. J. Edgar Hoover, then FBI Director, even had sent a letter threatening to disclose his marital infidelities, hoping to induce him to commit suicide. King’s activities put him in constant danger from the police and local officials that maintained power where he led his protests. To those who hated what he represented. He survived an attempt to kill him by a black woman at a book signing, and she was later proclaimed unstable. Despite the forces aligned against him, he still spoke out against injustice.

” Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin was a pacifist. This is a true thing, but he also understood the sentiment behind the violence that was taking place in cities across America at the time. In some ways, he was presented as the reasonable alternative to Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. In early 1965, after a Selma speech, Malcolm denounced King (who was in jail at the time). Malcolm approached Coretta Scott King and let her know he supported Martin, and his words might make it easier for Martin to accomplish his goals in a bad cop/good kind of way. This came after Malcolm had left the Nation of Islam and after his Hajj to Mecca, where he came to see many things differently. The possible combining of forces never came to be, as Malcolm was assassinated a few weeks later. Although Martin espoused nonviolence, he understood the rationale very much.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

If Martin were alive today, those who claim to have always loved him would have to find a way to silence him. He helped shine a light on that which some would keep hidden. He would rail against voter suppression, some of the current tactics looking slightly different than the same issue in his day. He would have looked with horror at the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots and led a change movement. He would have rejoiced when President Obama became a reality and recoiled at Trump, encouraging the masses to resist.

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is cooperating with it.”

They will tell you about his dream of people not being judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. About little boys and little girls walking hand in hand. They’d put him on a pedestal but ask you not to look too deeply. The Martin they want you to remember is not the whole of who he was. His message would be as relevant now as before. Yet those professing love for Martin and what he stood for would discredit and dismiss him because of his call for equity of income, equal opportunity, and ending unjust laws. Providing greater opportunities would require unwanted change. Remember Martin, love Martin, but know him for the radical he was, not the establishment figure he wished for.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

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