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January 16, 2012


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Paula B

Thanks for these recommendations, SC. You make a good point about MLK's convictions, in spite of the threat of political suicide (or, as we know now, homicide). AT the time, he was reviled by the right for being a radical and by the far left, for being too caught up in religion and too wimpy to accomplish much, Those days were so ripe with larger-than-life characters, it wasn't easy to recognize MLK's true value in the moment, especially within the context of a vast progressive movement. Interestingly, his principles and convictions held, while those of countless others faded into the background of inconsequence or extremism at one end of the political spectrum or another.

Sir Charles


Exactly. He was reviled by more radical elements in the African-American community for his refusal to justify the use of violence, but this was, of course, of a piece with the man's consistent (and as I note) radical world view. And one would be hard pressed to think of anyone in public life in our lifetimes who showed more physical courage.

He seemed intensely aware of his likely doom and he carried on nonetheless in a way that I can't help but feel is humbling to all but a few in this world.

And he was swayed not the least by access to power -- he could have just as easily said little about Vietnam -- when it came in conflict with his principles.

Paula B

I've written extensively about King and my memories of the civil rights movement on my blog. I hesitate to post anything this long, but will. Here's an excerpt:

I never met the man or heard him speak, except on television and radio, and, although I admired his courage and commitment, I didn’t like everything he said or did. Martin Luther King was no saint. He had women in his life other than wife Coretta. Long after receiving his doctorate, he was accused of plagiarizing portions of his dissertation. Some close to him called him vain, competitive, stubborn and careless about his personal safety. (In other words, he was human!) Black Power advocates derided him, saying he was more interested in integration than in strengthening the autonomy of his own race. He lost friends in Washington, the media and unions when he came out against US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Even so, no one could fault Martin Luther King for his commitment to the poor and abused, of any race or background. In this, he was steadfast to the end, in spite of incarceration, death threats and numerous attempts on his life. I don’t recall ever hearing him mention it publicly, but it must have been difficult for him to live with the knowledge that he had blood on his hands because many who followed his call for action, suffered mightily.

Still, he had a tremendous impact on the path this country took during his lifetime and for decades beyond. He had an equally strong impact on the lives of individuals, including this one. For a time before 1965, the world rested on King’s every word. People either loved him or hated him; there was no in-between.

Like the story of David and Goliath, King and his followers were mighty. They forced states to change laws that had been on the books for 100 years. They altered a nation’s perception of race and justice in a diverse society. In a way, King’s legacy may have outstripped his personal accomplishments, because the momentum he set in motion 45 years ago, is evident today.

I think the man was a genius but am afraid, if were alive today, he would fail to meet the level of scrutiny we insist on for our leaders. His genius was in transposing the simple truths of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance in India and Jesus' exhortation to turn the other cheek, to a workable plan for a society born and raised on violence.

As a Christian clergyman, King harnessed the power of religious beliefs to show fellow believers how to turn moral tenets into reality, in the form of laws affecting daily life, especially those affecting access to public accommodations and the voting booth. People already knew what was right and wrong, they just didn't know how to express it. King gave them the tools and pointed the way.

By adhering to non-violent actions, his followers believed they had “God on their side” and, so, would prevail. And, they did.

King was not the only individual responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he certainly was a prime mover.

Few leaders understood as well as he did the importance and dignity of ordinary people, black or white. Early in his short life, King vowed to do all he could to make their lives better. By the mid-1960s he was teaching hundreds, then thousands and finally millions of other ordinary people – including a host of college students (like me), long-time activists and clergy of all backgrounds – how to play very small roles in an enormous theater.

Paula B

And those very small roles in an enormous theater are what we need to focus on during this election year, without a King to lead us.


The way the conservative movement extolls King has always disgusted me. If he were alive today they'd be using his extramarital affairs to destroy him; back then they were calling him a communist. I think people who would violently disagree with him now like to make him into this cardboard saint so we can feel good about ourselves and tell ourselves that racism is over. The conservative movement of course only acknowledges "reverse" racism these days. Very few people now seem to know that King was an economic radical as well as a civil rights leader. I think it's fair to assume he'd be horrified by the growing wealth/income inequality in the US.


People forget why he was in Memphis the day he was killed. He was there in support of striking sanitation workers, who were being mistreated by the city which employed them.

As he put it in Letter from a Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

kathy a.

mcnamera -- who was the architect of escalation in VN -- eventually came to a place close to MLK's. but only long after the VN war ended, and long after macnamera retired.

that fucking war did not end until quite a few years after this speech.


I think it's fair to assume he'd be horrified by the growing wealth/income inequality in the US.

Here are some charts and a commentary, in honor of MLK Day, charts which I suspect he'd be bringing to our attention, were he still here. Malcolm X always sung to my ears as a young person. But Dr. King was correct about the strength of peaceable and aligned endeavor over the distance.

kathy a.

excellent, jeanne marie. thank you.

Phil Perspective

And one would be hard pressed to think of anyone in public life in our lifetimes who showed more physical courage.

We have no one of that ilk today. No one!! And the USA is poorer for it.

MR Bill

10 other MLK quotes you won't hear so much..
The Right's coopting of King as a Establishment figure is one with their appropriation of the Founders and the little flowers of faux history they garnish their portrait of Reagan.
In Atlanta, where the King family is a real presence, it's also hard to talk about the revolutionary Dr. King. The Fox affiliate featured his daughter, Bernice, who was a player in Bishop Eddie Long's ministry, and one of the black backers of anti-gay marriage law(actually, anti domestic partner, common law marriage...) that has really fired up the rightwing vote in GA.

...and let us never forget: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

MR Bill

Well, hell, I missed it: you couldn't tell it from the bits of saw on Fox 5 Atlanta, but Bernice King has an amazing turnaround on GLBT yesterday.

Pam Spalding has the goods..

Paula B

The Must Read from JM was good, but here's one I like even better. A little known fact included in an op-ed written by one of the first-wave Freedom Riders: http://nyti.ms/xbFUla
If you can't get over the NYT paywall, let me know and I'll excerpt it.


MR Bill, I'm not sure your link is working.


Yes, that worked. Thanks for the link and I agree it's encouraging to see the change in Bernice King's rhetoric. :)

Paula B

>>the movement to oust Walker ... secured the support of a higher percentage of eligible voters than has ever before sought to recall an American governor.<<


kathy a.

yeah, paula! here is a direct link. really encouraging news!


Paula -- I don't remember your ever having mentioned this film about the 'Freedom Riders', but in case you've missed it, it's available on netflix. Next up for us.

And if anyone has missed Amanda Marcotte in the last few days, you should catch up. She's gone back to back, with the right-wingers and their attempted confiscation of Martin Luther King ('cept they can't stand this holiday), then straight on to the horrifying SC debate spectacle last night. She watched it so that ...


I'm a duck out of water here because I haven't followed all the links above to see what they are about, but I get back to the original post about King and I have at least one perhaps cogent anecdote to relate.

I was at a concert at the Washington University Field House by Joan Baez. She walked on stage and announced that King had been assasinated. Then she led us all through singing We Shall Overcome. Then she performed her concert for us all.

King was a man like all the others, imperfect, but he had one vision that was just, equality.

We will never know what the result of his living out a natural life might have been.

Fools can change history.


Forgot. Jeanne Marie, that essay is remarkable. Thank you for the link. Reading the comments (some of them) reminded me of how, for younger people, some of our hard recent American history seems so long ago as to not be accessed all that viscerally. At a remove, they didn't seem to recall that even fictional 'To Kill a Mockingbird', junior high-school required reading (I hope), was all about terror in the south in our, or certainly our parents' lifetimes.

And KN. All OK? Fevers abated we hope.

paula b

Thanks, Nancy. I saw it when it first came out,then bought a copy. Be prepared to be stunned, maybe sickened.I didn't join the Freedom Rides until October of that year, in Maryland. I was on the US 40 and US 1 rides and sit ins.They weren't as bad as mississippi or Alabama, but were dangerous enough. I was 17 and a freshman at UMCP.Someday I'll show the video to my grandkids, so they see how bad it was.

Becky and cathy, are you getting pounded by the storm?


KN -- Ha. I wrote my comment just before you appeared. Pure coincidence.

And yes. Fools change history with some regularity. Nomatter where.


Hi paula, that's an inspiring story. You definitely should show the grandkids the video.

In answer to your question (and thanks for asking), not yet. The worst is supposed to start around 0300 our time. We've had snow off and on for the last couple of days, but tomorrow is expected to be the big one. There's talk that it could rival the Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1985, which I remember well. I had just moved to this area the previous July, and didn't really understand that snow is unusual in the lowlands here. I was impressed by the quantity of snow (though not THAT impressed, having grown up in central Illinois), but baffled as to why it was just sitting on the ground; why didn't the snowplows come out and clear off the roads? It took me awhile to figure out that they don't have snowplows here, because we rarely have much snow. My other mildly funny adjustment experience to life here took place when I first got here that summer: I had a really hard time understanding that no, my nice apartment didn't have air conditioning, and that they don't spray for bugs every 6 weeks. Having spent the previous 7 years in St. Louis, Houston and Georgia that left me a wee bit confused. ;-)

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