Historical Reflection: Martin the Revolutionary?
Because of my frustration with the latest season of the Boondocks, I revisited the boondocks first season episode featuring Dr. King. I have recently encountered many people who live a static life or believe that people do not change or if they change, they are “fake”. I like to believe that life is fluid and not stagnate. If we assume this is not possible, then growth in knowledge does not transform a person’s ideals or actions. Now back to Dr. King. Dr. King’s goal was to liberate the lives of black folk from the confines of racism. With amazing propaganda, the United States, the intellectuals, the people, etc., all created this dominant narrative that he was the same man from 1955 until his death. This narrative has created a simplistic and narrow view of his life which has hindered his full legacy by boxing in his politics. We have focused too much on I Have a Dream Speech (and only a small portion of that speech is targeted) and not enough on A Time to Break Silence. But like Dr. King said in his Sign Your Own Emancipation Proclamation speech, “I want to get the language right tonight.”
For Martin, I like to think Chicago was his Mecca. Martin was criticized for not paying enough attention to other issues such as capitalism and poverty in the north (though he mentioned his anti-capitalist ideals early in his life). In 1966, he decided to move to Chicago to experience the intersections of classism, racism, and understand why many black people have become more “militant” in their actions. In his speech and book Where Do We Go from Here, King says, “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. We must no longer be ashamed of being black. The job of arousing manhood within a people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy” (Howard-Pitney p.148). This statement shows that he is more interested in black pride and the psychological effects (PTSS) of slavery. He goes on to say, “Now another basic challenge is to discover how to organize our strength in to economic and political power. Now no one can deny that the Negro is in dire need of this kind of legitimate power. Indeed, one of the great problems that the Negro confronts is his lack of power… What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic” (Howard-Pitney p.150). These are common and popular views of Black Nationalism. Though he criticized leaders like Kwame Ture and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz for encouraging “violence” through self-defense, he could not deny the need for black power. He may have not agreed with the terminology or the propaganda, but he started to believe in the need for an independent power structure for black people (not to be mistaken for separatism). What really sealed the deal and ultimately his fate was his support to end the Vietnam War. King realized that if he was going to fight poverty with nonviolence, he had to do the same against the USA government for inflicting violence against people of color in America and in Vietnam.
He evolved not just because he saw the flaws in his work and ideals but simply because it is the nature of all living beings. While Dr. King was doing good work in the name of love, he ignored the issues of many black people by only focusing on the south, primarily, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. He also saw how the government was not holding their end of the bargain in regards to liberating black people. Yes, public spaces were beginning to desegregate (which is up for debate), and yes black people were not as disenfranchised (which is up for debate as well), but they still were in poverty, without equal access to jobs, etc. So he evolved. We must continue to examine our history holistically, because if not, you may miss important information that could help you in your own evolution.