Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Every year around this time I read articles and op-eds about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) that generally fall into two categories. On the one hand, you have leftists and revolutionaries who generally argue MLK was moving in an anti-capitalist direction before he was assassinated. The more extreme leftists claim this is precisely why he was assassinated. They also note if he was alive today, he would be siding with them in their various struggles whether environmental, economic or political. On the other hand, you have conservatives who contend that they are the rightful heirs to MLK’s legacy. They contend if King was alive today, he would take their side, especially in regards to “right to life” and other social issues.

I find most of these discussions to be less than useful. Who knows what MLK’s politics would be like if he were alive today? Yes, he was outspoken in support of the poor and labor issues but I doubt he would share the contemporary Left’s position on abortion. And what would he have thought of the increasing radicalization and fetishism of violence of the New Left? In any event, these sorts of discussions involve extreme speculation on both sides of the political spectrum.

Instead, I think it is illustrative to examine the social and political legacy of MLK. Have the changes he wanted to see in American society become reality? In many cases, they have. De jure discrimination based on race is illegal. Federal legislation was passed providing legal protection and access in the areas of transportation (thanks Irene Morgan and Rosa Parks!), voting rights, public facilities, and education. A good friend reminded me of MLK’s influence in the case of Loving v. Virginia which ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. And of course we have a black president. These are incredibly positive developments for a country as riven by race as the U.S.

But are there any negative elements of his legacy? I realize to even suggest this runs the risk of being labeled an apostate by liberals and conservatives alike. Yet when I examine some of the individuals and groups who claim to extend the progressive vision of MLK to the present I am incredibly disappointed.

To be absolutely clear I do not place any blame for the buffoonery of these clowns on MLK. I suspect and hope he would be disappointed by their antics as well. And I recognize there are plenty of folks who continue King’s legacy in a positive and uplifting fashion.

Enjoy this brief clip of MLK responding to the criticisms leveled against him by Malcolm X:

3 responses »

  1. I was just looking at CiFWatch, where they quoted MLK’s “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”, exciting some debate beneath the line. Previously, I had been looking at Tony Greenstein [British Jewish hardocre anti-Zionist leftie]’s post on the alleged hoaxing of this quote
    , and wrote this comment:

    Tony, you employ a bit of sleight of hand here. You open with the alleged quote, and say there is no evidence MLK said it. Fair enough. Then you say:
    CAMERA, the ardent Zionist organisation, which specialises in advocating censorship and the McCarthyite sacking of lecturers, has accepted that the letter is a ‘fabrication/hoax’ and accuses the Anti-Defamation League and its representative Michael Salberg (hints of knives and competitors!) of not doing its homework when Salberg cited the quote on July 31, 2001 to a Congressional Subcommittee. Having checked the “source” (Saturday Review, August 1967) even CAMERA are satisfied there was no such letter, though they claim it was in accord with his views!

    But you haven’t said up to this point what “the letter” is. Indeed, they say a letter circulating on the internet and cited by Salberg (quoting a book which has a preface by MLK’s oldest son) is indeed a hoax.

    But they do not say the quote you are debunking was a hoax; they say he really said it. I don’t know if he did or not, but when you are debunking an urban myth, you need to be more careful than this.

    P.S. In relation to the actual quote, although Fadi Kiblawi & Will Youmans at Electronic Intifada present good reasons to doubt it’s veracity, we cannot really be sure whether it was said or not, or whether he said something similar. First, it was in right-wing and ardently pro-Israeli sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1969 article in Encounter. Second, it was in a January, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed by Congressman John Lewis, who knew Dr. King personally.

    Lipset wrote in his essay “The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews & Israel” about a “dinner” for Dr. King he attended. When one black student made “some remark against the Zionists,” Dr. King “snapped” back, “‘When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism’.” The piece by Congressman Lewis also quotes this same remark though it is not clear if it is gathered from Lipset’s essay.

    Congressman Lewis claims Dr. King made this comment “shortly before his death” during “an appearance at Harvard.” Lipset states it was “shortly before he was assassinated” at a “dinner given for him in Cambridge.” (For the benefit of my fellow Brits, Harvard is in Cambridge. Also, not sure whether Lipset was right-wing by 1969. Encounter was anti-Communist, but it was not right-wing.)

    I searched the Harvard Crimson and saw that King was due to speak at the Divinity School there in March 68 but I didn’t find a report of if he did. And he was due to speak at commencement day (I think that’s like a graduation ceremony) in June 68 but of course he had been assassinated by then so his widow took his place.

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