But Martin Luther King, Jr. was powerful because he was FEARED, not because he was a gentile poet. Whites were terrified of MLK, of his popularity, or his organizational prowess, and his ability to control the media message. He was an enemy of the social order, and had he lived it's possible to imagine he could have kept the revolution on track, gaining speed rather than withering in the idealism and negativity (the two can easily go hand in hand) that marked in the rise of both Hippie and Panther. With MLK around, perhaps the revolution wouldn't have turned so far, so fast, into the rise of the Right. Nixon, Reagan, Bush. War on Drugs (War on Blacks). War on Liberals. Rise of Greed, Rise of Me. Rise of Self-Actualization. Loss of Community. Loss of Conscience.
This is the first MLK Day since Charleston last summer. Remember that? Terrorism in a church? Why does that sound so familiar? Ah yes. Birmingham bombing, 1963. Why do so many of the issues that I write about seem so familiar? Oh yeah. No progress. In myriad ways, none. I came across another reasonably "palatable" MLK speech, at Oberlin in '65, addressed to a largely white audience.
We must face the honest fact that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved. For while we are quite successful in breaking down the legal barriers to segregation, the Negro is now confronting social and economic barriers which are very real. The Negro is still at the bottom of the economic ladder. He finds himself perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Millions of Negroes are still housed in unendurable slums; millions of Negroes are still forced to attend totally inadequate and substandard schools. And we still see, in certain sections of our country, violence and man's inhumanity to man in the most tragic way. All of these things remind us that we have a long, long way to go.Fifty years on and the speech could be delivered, without a blink, today. Perhaps it's telling that the only edit needed would be a descriptive word - Black for Negro. And further, he argues that it is simply not a matter of "time" to fix the problem. It took years for MLK to get to the point of a Voting Rights Act, but compared to the lackluster gains since, it seems like a blink of the eye. In such a short span, MLK was able confront and largely extinguish the worst excesses of white on black terrorism in the South. And to do so without taking up arms? Astounding. Brave. He goes on to say explicitly what time alone will not accomplish:
Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I'm absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation - the extreme rightists - the forces committed to negative ends - have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time." Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.Silence. Indifference. Reminds me of the official response to "Black Lives Matter." Frankly, Hilary should lead with it, take away Bernie's edge. I guess polls suggest not to? Clintons are very, very good at reading polls. Better than Trump? One would hope.
Today the Q salutes the memory of a revolutionary. A tactical genius. And a much more radical leader than a certain familiar speech would suggest. And remember, the speech itself came at the end of a warning. That blacks had come to cash a check that had been written but never honored. And if the promissory note wasn't honored, well...
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.Perhaps the real Dream, the national Dream, was the rise of Reagan. Perhaps we've been sleepwalking, or grieving. History will see it as a continuum, where we see it as a series of present moments.
Last observation. If you read the Oberlin speech there are many references to the global fight for justice. Communism, too, it's global threat, and is mentioned many times. Seems out of date? Of course not. ISIS and radical Islam, despotism and yes even heavy-duty and heavily-armed Communist ideology are very much with us. North Korea. China. Global justice, vast migrations, hunger, holocaust. Throw in a touch of global annihilation and damned if we aren't living through not so much peacetime and prosperity; more a potential awakening, or vast uprising. Would that we had someone with King's moral authority to lead through that moment. I'm sorry to say that Bernie is not that guy. Sorry. And most tragically, neither is Barack.