Soon, every TV station and network, and many of the nation's radio stations, will air stock film footage (or tape) of Martin Luther King, Jr., his handsome dark face shining in a sea of dark faces, captured in his moment of triumph: the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.
They will gladly air this 'safe' Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke loftily and eloquently of dreams.
Few will dare air his remarks made at Riverside Church in New York City, where an older, wiser Martin spoke, not of dreams but of realities -- of social, and especially economic injustice -- of rampant American militarism, and yes -- the nightmare of white racism.
One of those with him, who, too, would become a Rev. Dr., was Vincent Harding, a man who loved Martin, and who knew him as a brother, rather than an icon.
Rev. Dr. Harding, a leading theologian and historian, wanted others to know the Martin he'd known; so he wrote a book: Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996 [8th printing]). As Harding teaches us, King fell into the pit of betrayal, when he took on the war in Vietnam:
".... King was bitterly rebuked for taking on the issue of the war. Some called it a diversion from the issue of black rights. Others feared the terrible rage of [President] Lyndon Johnson who brooked no opposition (certainly not from black Martin Luther King!) to his destructive policies.
"Some members of King's own Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) board of directors opposed his role in the antiwar movement, partly because they had seen the way in which the liberal white allies of the movement had withdrawn financial support from the radicalized young people of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), who dared stand in solidarity with the Vietnamese opponents of America's intervention ...
"In the face of all this, partly because of all this, King persisted, and the Riverside speech - delivered exactly one year before his assassination, was the most notable result of his decision. Immediately the drumbeat of harsh criticism was heightened. It came from many ... including such black stalwarts as Jackie Robinson, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and Carl Rowan." [pp. 70-71]
Rev. Dr. Harding also recounts how the allegedly 'liberal' Washington Post assailed Rev. Dr. King for daring to oppose the war. The newspaper editorial called his words "Bitter and damaging allegations and inferences that he did not and could not document." In the view of the Post's editors, "many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people." [Harding, p. 71]
To his credit, Harding explains, King did not heed such criticisms, for he knew that they were on the side of war and death.
Harding writes that King became increasingly radicalized, and emboldened to speak out against injustice; Riverside was a turning point:
"(Who knew that night, April 4, that he had precisely one more year to live, that the bullet was closing in?) For King saw the larger context. He had already declared in other places that his "beloved country" was "engaged in a war that seeks to turn the clock of history back and perpetuate white colonialism." Underlying this backwardness, he said, was America's refusal to recognize that "the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism." [p. 101]
This ain't the Martin Luther King we see on commercials, nor the ones we see in newspaper ads around the days of his birth or death.
That Martin Luther King, anti-war critic, economic justice activist, advocate for the poor, fellow sufferer of the bombed and oppressed in Vietnam, a budding socialist (or at least anti-capitalist), had become, in Harding's words, 'the inconvenient hero.'
May we remember who he really was.
That King has almost vanished from our popular media, white-washed culture and history.
Were it not for folks like Vincent Harding, he might have.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal