Monday, January 18, 2010
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the United States. He was an amazing leader, writer, and public speaker who continues to influence so many of us more than forty years after he was murdered. However, King's legacy is often whitewashed in the mainstream, leaning heavy on his words from the 1963 "I Have a Dream" address, and dropping completely the man's later career as both a leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a fierce critic of American politics and economics.
Over at the blog Racialicious you can read some of his more "radical" statements.
Among those statements, I'd like to highlight the following. First, there's this one.
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Now, we can disagree about who should run such programs - i.e. whether the government should use billions of dollars to run social programs, or whether other groups, such as local non-profits, should be given a larger percentage of our collective incomes to run programs of social benefit, but the fact still remains that military spending in this nation is obscene, and definitely indicates a societal sickness in my opinion.
Along these lines, King severely critiqued the imbalance of wealth and power that existed in 1960's America, and is, in many ways, worse today. "True compassion," he said," is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." He repeatedly questioned the U.S. government and corporate backing of dictatorships in Latin America, and asked why we continually worked to suppress the revolutions of "the shirtless and barefoot people" around the world. This isn't the cozy picture of harmony many of us have when we read or listen to King's earlier speeches that call for people to come together and be respected for the "content of their characters."
From his Poor People's Campaign, which sought to unite people across the racial divide who were powerless as individuals economically, to his ardent calls for an end to the Vietnam War, the later years of Dr. King's life are not only more intriguing to me, but also provide those of us who are actively engaged in social justice work lessons we might be able to apply to today's situations.
Posted by Nathan at 5:23 PM