Interview Transcript: Noam Chomsky on Martin Luther King Jr.

Interview Transcript: Noam Chomsky on Martin Luther King Jr.
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Excerpt from an interview on the Rob Kall Bottom-up Show (radio station WNJC 1360 AM), recorded Monday, January 18th 1-2 p.m. EST, to be broadcast Wednesday, January 20, 2010:

I asked Professor Chomsky about his thoughts on the transition of the culture and humans from top down to bottom up.

He replied:

Today's a good day to think about that. Today's in memory of Martin Luther King, who is a a great man and an important figure who played a major role in the civil rights movement.

I'm sure he would have been the first to say that he was riding the wave of protest and activism that developed from the bottom, that began with -- it goes way back -- black kids insisting on going to schools. Eisenhower had to call in federal troops to support them. Black students sitting in at lunch counters. Black and white young people joining to become "freedom riders."

It's not easy. They suffered. A number were killed. They were brutally beaten and attacked. Things weren't pretty by any means. I saw some of that.

Finally, enough of a popular movement developed so that Martin Luther King was able to lead major marches, demonstrations and so on that developed support in the north as well, as long as it was focused in the south. Racism in the north was barely addressed. But as long as it was focused on the atrocities in the south it got substantial support and finally enough pressure to get Lyndon Johnson to pass significant legislation and all of that was progress from the bottom-up, as most changes are.

It's important to remember that Martin Luther King Jr.'s career did not end with "I have a dream" speech. He went on. He went on to extend his concerns and activism. And as he did, his popularity and reputation among northern liberal declined. He turned to protest against the Viet Nam war, correctly. He was assassinated when he was supporting the sanitary workers strike. And in fact, he was on his way to organize a poor people's movement. By that time, he was reaching class issues, not just racist Alabama sherriffs. And, as he turned to those issues, his reputation declined. I suspect, if you listen to the speeches today, about Martin Luther King, you won't hear a lot about that aspect.

What we prefer to remember is his quite courageous efforts to carry forward civil rights legislation and civil rights reforms. And that was, doubtless, extremely significant. But it didn't end there. He went on and that was a part of his greatness, in fact, a large part of it.

But with regard to bottom-up versus top-down, his role is a good example. There was a large scale popular movement created from the bottom up, which presented the circumstances in which he could be an effective leader...

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