I don’t really think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would hardly care about a monument being erected in his honor on the Washington Mall.
He probably would have rather that money be spent helping the poor. And now, an insignificant debate is forcing the statue to undergo alterations, after critics complained that the abbreviated “drum major” quote changed the meaning and made Dr. King sound egotistical. Who really cares, right? Shouldn’t the focus be on who is carrying out the meaning of that “drum major” quote? Are we no longer focused on doing the works of Dr. King, but rather on being skilled quotologists arguing over an inscription? Dr. King wouldn’t approve of this.
He was assassinated 10 years before I was born. As an elementary, middle, and high school student, I learned about him once a year through plays, books, lectures, and his ever-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington. However, like many of my classmates at that time, I did not truly understand Dr. King because all we heard was that he was the dreamer, the dreamer, the dreamer.
When I got to college, I discovered that we had been robbed of the true essence of this man and his evolution that took place before his last days among us. I learned more about a wide-awake Dr. King that rallied against the Vietnam War to call on America to take care of its poor at home. Do you think Dr. King would have joined Occupy Wall Street and supported the Arab Spring?
I learned about a Dr. King that delivered an anti-war speech titled “Breaking the Silence” in 1967; a Dr. King that said, “I’m tired of marching for something that should have been mine at birth;” a Dr. King that was spied on and plotted against by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI COINTELPRO from 1961 to 1968; the Dr. King that was lied on by the government; the Dr. King that met one-on-one with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam in 1966; and the Dr. King that many in America did not like, yet his face has adorned a U.S. postal stamp.
My eyes came open to a different Dr. King than the one my teachers gave to me. This disturbed me, because I wondered why we were not taught these things about Dr. King early on in school. Unfortunately, this cycle continues in 2012, with schools force-feeding our young people a watered-down Dr. King by omitting his post-”I Have a Dream” years. This man wanted an end to what he called the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.” Are our children being robbed?
“Celebrating” Dr. King’s birthday has even become a lucrative business for corporations, ahem The 1%, and for those today that so-call “praise” him, but never would have been with him post-”I Have a Dream.”
The Dr. King of 1963 was not the same man in 1968. His life was cut short just as he was evolving. We all evolve as human beings, but it seems as if we want to only minimize his impact to one speech, one march, one moment. This is not to say I don’t think the speech was and is powerful—because I do.
Yes, Dr. King cared about the condition of Black people and called on us to do something for self, get better organized, build economically, and grow in political power. Read this and more in his 1967 speech “The Black Power Defined.” I’m sure some will be quick to call this “separatism”, “Black nationalism” or “racism.”
In 1968, Dr. King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice and take a stand for the poor of all races in America. How much more could you and I do for the poor in our communities, cities, states and country?
If Dr. King were here today, I believe he would still be beating the drum of the anti-war movement and would not be silent. I believe he would oppose the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and any moves being made to go to war with Iran. I believe he would oppose what is being done by Israel and the billions of dollars in aid being given to them by America. Furthermore, I can’t honestly think he would be encouraging our young people to join the military to go and fight unjust wars. Matter of fact, Dr. King would be a conscientious objector.
Dr. King would be condemning the death penalty and would have been protesting the murder of Troy Davis alongside his family. As for President Barack Obama, I think Dr. King would be one of those whom he would have to get off of the streets and detain in the name of the National Defense Authorization Act. Could you imagine President Obama arresting a man who paved the way for him? I could.
Dr. King would want us to honor him - not with just parades, floats, songs, dance, plays, speeches, t-shirts, street signs, statues or even a national day off from work. How about we teach more than the “safe version” of Dr. King? How about we fight for the poor? How about we accept responsibility to build our own communities?
If we’re not doing the works of Dr. King, then the dream is dead. Isn’t it time to move pass just dreaming? It takes more than dreaming. It takes action by all of us.
Follow Brother Jesse Muhammad on Twitter (@BrotherJesse).