Given that Martin Luther King Day is next week I think that in remembering King and his legacy we should also reexamine his dream, which ended up becoming a nightmare. Whereas Malcolm X declared himself to be an African who happens to be in America, King fully identified as an American, but in doing so he did not allow himself to be blinded to America’s faults. That is an aspect of King that is often neglected. We often forget that King was a man who was deeply troubled by problems that he recognized in the United States. Yet, unlike Malcolm X, King could not bring himself to disassociate from America. Malcolm X had declared: “And you'd be surprised, we discovered that deep within the subconscious of the Black man in this country, he's still more African than he is American.” King, on the other hand, explained: “The Negro is the child of two cultures—Africa and America.” King was wrestling with what W.E.B. Du Bois described as a “double consciousness” or the internal conflict that African Americans face between their African and American identities.
King was beginning to recognize that there were fundamental issues concerning race and poverty in America that were not being addressed by the passage of civil rights legislation. King also had to face the reality that his allies in the struggle did not share his views. In My Song Harry Belafonte details some of the differences King was having with those around him, including Andrew Young whom King got into a heated exchange with. King explained to Young that the difference between the two was that Young was a capitalist and he was not. Belafonte also recounts that King confessed to him: “But what deeply troubles me now is that for all the steps we’ve taken toward integration, I’ve come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house.”
King also faced much backlash when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. The same media that praised him for his non-violent protests for civil rights was now criticizing him for his position on the war. Some of King’s former allies in the civil rights movement also began to distance themselves from King over his criticisms of the Vietnam War. Prominent activists such as Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young all continued to support the Democratic Party and refused to speak out against the war. The interesting thing is that King found himself on the same side of the issue as the Nation of Islam. Like King, the Nation of Islam recognized the hypocrisy of America’s position on non-violence and publicly opposed the Vietnam War.
King wanted to see America live up to the creed that all men are created equal. Yet he was also forced to confront reality that America was deeply flawed nation. He lamented that America was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and the sermon that King had planned to deliver before he was assassinated was a sermon on why America may go to hell. In the end King was someone who was deeply frustrated with the same country that he had fought so hard to integrate African people into. King came to recognize that his dream of integration had become a nightmare.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.