As the nation gears up to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, I would like to encourage all Americans - but particularly my fellow white Americans - to consider who this man really was and why he was murdered.
You see, most white Americans have reached a point where they can celebrate Dr. King, but that is ONLY because King has been sanitized, stripped of his prophetic zeal, made palatable to whites who 40 years ago may have been among the throngs of fools casting epithets, bricks, and firebombs at Dr. King and his followers.
Make no mistake about it; Martin Luther King was a radical. If he were alive today, most people in power (read: white people) would hate him, would hate what he was saying, and would hate what he was willing to die for.
We watch Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech and it inspires us, it makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But if that is all Dr. King did - make people feel warm and fuzzy - why was he so reviled?
Consider the following from the book, "The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From Solo to Memphis," by David J. Garrow.
"On November 18, 1964, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover publically called Martin Luther King, Jr. 'the most notorious liar' in America. Three days later, one of Hoover's top assistants wrote and sent the following anonymous letter to King. Included with the letter was an incriminating tape recording which the FBI had obtained by 'bugging' King's hotel rooms.
In view of your grade... I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII...
King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don't have one at this time that is any near your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God... Clearly you don't believe in any personal moral principles.
King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our old leaders like Wilkins a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done. Your "honorary" degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.
No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself... I repeat- no person can argue successfully against facts. You are finished... Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness... King you are done.
The American public, the church organizations that have been helping - Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are - evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant [sic]). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."
Read those words again. Really, stop and read them. If Dr. King was someone who made us feel warm and fuzzy; if Dr. King was someone who could and should be celebrated; if Dr. King was someone who simply inspired people; then why would such a disgusting letter be written to him by the FBI? Why would people have thrown bricks and M80s at him? Why was he jailed? Why were his followers beaten? Why was he cut down by an assassin's bullet on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis?
Why? Because he was a radical; because he preached God's good news to the poor; because he made people who benefited from the status quo incredibly uncomfortable; and like all the great prophets before him, he was killed for doing these.
So instead of celebrating Martin Luther King as the inspiring leader that makes you feel good, I encourage you to celebrate him honestly, and honor Martin Luther King as the revolutionary that he truly was.
A simple way of doing this might be to consider what Dr. King may have stood for today and what he might have said about the current state of affairs in our nation.
I would argue that it is fair to say, based on his words and example, that if Dr. King were alive in 2011, he would say that:
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unjust.
The disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor in America is unjust.
The influence of corporate money in American politics is unjust.
And so on...
As he did when he was alive, Dr. King would prophetically speak the truth of God and he would demand that these wrongs of war, economic injustice and failures in democracy, be set right. And Dr. King would go beyond words, he would take action - he would put his feet in the street and his body on the line and he would rally others to do so. And in doing these things, Dr. King would encourage the wrath of the majority in our nation, particularly those who benefit from the status quo, and they would hate him for it and they would wish him dead.
Have the courage to think of that on January 17th.
That is what this national holiday should be about - deep reflection on Dr. King's life and mission and whether or not each (or any) of us has the desire and the courage to truly bring his dream to reality in these United States of America.
Peace (and Justice),