Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Need to Free The Legacy of The Reverend Martin Luther King jr

A commentator at RMJ's blog reminded me last week that Dorothy Day told people not to call her a saint, that she wasn't going to let them dismiss her that easily.   If she had The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. in mind when she said that, I don't know but she well could have.

The right dismisses him when they remove the demands for social justice and, especially his demands for economic justice and play that tiny fragment of his "Dream" speech which is meaningless without the rest of that speech and without the sum of his defiance of the total program of  the capitalist, imperial state.   A Martin Luther King jr. who can be promoted by those who oppose everything he worked for is a false, empty image of the real person, mounted to bury the real King.

The putative left began to dismiss him during his lifetime, first as figures allegedly more to the left than he was who dismissed his non-violence and his Blessed Community as they and their ridiculous, futile programs and theories squandered the movement and denied the basic moral content that empowered it. They continue to dismiss him today, even as such moral sink holes as Christopher Hitchens try to condescendingly dismiss the Christianity that Reverend King, himself, constantly cited as his moral authority and his motivation, the reason for his sacrifice and his call for self-sacrifice.

The left, the real left, not the play left, reclaiming and promoting King's legacy and taking him seriously, right down to the religious foundation that made his life's work happen, is among the more important things we can do.  We need to take him that seriously, that we take his words to mean what he said and to not suppress those unwelcomed by the ineffective, play left who have produced nothing to give us any confidence in them.

One of the things I think was a mistake was to close schools on the holiday dedicated to him.   Considering the central importance that public education was to the struggle for civil rights, it is a strange and immoral irony that schools are closed for this day, parades and programs for adults to be seen at taking the place of children being presented with the central struggle of our history.  It was a big mistake to make it just another Monday holiday to ignore the meaning of.   I would propose re-writing the laws establishing the holiday to require that schools remain open and the day be dedicated to talking about the goals of justice, economic and otherwise.   Though that would be resisted because the last thing they'd want to make the day about is what King struggled and died for.


Another thing that is unfortunate is that King's family has restricted access to his words,  his central legacy,  his tools for making things happen.  I understand why his widow would have wanted to secure some economic security for her and his children, who had made such a sacrifice for the movement, but the result has been a diminishment of his legacy and its role in the continuation of progress towards his goals.

If anyone has access to billionaires with such an inclination, they should suggest to them that they might put up the money to make an offer to those who control King's written and filmed legacy to make it more accessible to use by scholars and those who are struggling for his goals, today.   I wouldn't think putting them into the public domain is a good idea because it would expose them to uses and indignities that wouldn't serve any good purpose.  But they should be controlled by those who understand and share his goals without charge to those who share those goals.

Here is one of the great Bill Moyers interviews with James Cone and Taylor Branch on King's Fight for Economic Justice.  I've posted it before but it is worth listening to, again.


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  2. For my convenience, so I won't feel the need to answer them, I will be posting your comments on my new blog, inspired by you Sims.