What Martin Luther King Actually Accomplished

“The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect”

March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the United States Supreme Court This article talks a bit about the horrors of the Jim Crow era in America.

Mary Turner 1918 Eight Months Pregnant Mobs lynched Mary Turner on May 17, 1918 in Lowndes County. Georgia because she vowed to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested. Her husband was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing Hampton Smith, a white farmer for whom the couple had worked, and wounding his wife. Sidney Johnson. a Black, apparently killed Smith because he was tired of the farmer’s abuse. Unable to find Johnson. the killers lynched eight other Blacks Including Hayes Turner and his wife Mary. The mob hanged Mary by her feet, poured gasoline and oil on her and set fire to her body. One white man sliced her open and Mrs. Turner’s baby tumbled to the ground with a “little cry” and the mob stomped the baby to death and sprayed bullets into Mary Turner.  

So…One of the things MLK did was to finally put the skids, if not the end to this sort of “domestic terrorism”, against black folks. Now, our black conservative Uncle Toms would like you believe that liberals are using the past as an excuse for everything. But do you see the Jewish people forgetting the Holocaust? Black conservatives, and white conservative racists they support are big on black on black violence. But the thing hy won’t tell you, and you will never find in their pseudo-scientific statistics is that 92% of the men locked up or child sexual abuse …Are white. During Jim Crow white men were free to rape, sodomize and brutalize not only black women…But black children. While lynchings were sometimes reported, these other categories of violence and sexual predation were entirely swept under the rug.

The second thing they lie about is the violence statistics. Sexually abusing a child in the FBI’s version of the violent crime world doesn’t qualify as a “violent crime” – and thus is excludes from the statistics which include murder, and the rape of adult women (or men). We are going to count veggies, but green tomatoes don’t count.

Back to that pre-Civil Rights time – there was little or no hope of actually prosecuting these white criminals in the southern “Justice” system. Laying the groundwork of why black folk will never trust the conservative judges the right is so desperate to appoint.

Gaining the right to walk down the street unmolested may not seem like that big a deal solely from a cynical intellectual viewpoint – but it is pretty freaking important if it is you trying to get down the street.

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did

This will be a very short diary.  It will not contain any links or any scholarly references.  It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

The reason I’m posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King’s legacy, and there is a diary up now (not on the rec list but on the recent list) entitled, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Not Yet Realized.”  I’m sure the diarist means well as did the others.  But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans.  And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general.  His main impactwas not to make white people nicer or fairer.  That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smart ass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father.  My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context.  My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class.  He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers.  I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step grandfather.  They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, pot belly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old.  The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse.  All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves.  It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.

They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black.  In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people.  On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied.  By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.

Anyway that’s background.  I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre Civil Rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message.  My father got really angry at me.  It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.

I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress.  Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished.  He gave this great speech.  Or some people say, “he marched.”  I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty.  With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people.  The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.

This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.

I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent’s vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank.  They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness.  My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men.  Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict.  Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.

The question is, how did Dr. King do this — and of course, he didn’t do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of non-violent resistance, and taught the practices of non violent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what?  The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicked on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.  Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song.  The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another.  This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in.  It wasn’t marches or speeches.  It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on.  But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.  So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today.  If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did — not march, not give good speeches.  He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.  So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one.  Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

PS.  I really shouldn’t have to add this but please — don’t ever confuse someone criticizing you or telling you bad things over the internet with what happened to people during the civil rights movement.  Don’t.  Just don’t do it.  Don’t go there.

PSS  Weird, but it kind of sounds like what V did to Evie.

UPDATE:  There is a major, major hole in this essay as pointed out by FrankAletha downthread — While I was focusing on the effect on black men, she points out that similarly randomized sexual violence against black women was as severe and common and probably more so, because while violence against black men was ritualistic, violence against black women was routine.

UPDATE 2: Rec list — I’m honored!!!

He’s Black!

At least back in 1939 when Marian Anderson had to sing here (on the National Mall) “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” rather than at the Constitution Hall because they said the reason was she was black. At least they were honest back then. Today in American politics you have people like Donald Trump who hangs around with Mitt Romney talking about the president being an illegal immigrant, basically being a con artist on the street corner. You’ve got people talking about nullification of the law of the land. You got people talking impeachment like Coburn. You’ve got Ted Cruz out there. They never say their problem with Obama is that he is black, but look at the pattern. The pattern is rejection of his legitimacy at the first point, saying he is not really here legally. It’s rejection of the law he has passed, the landmark bill passed in 2010. It’s an attempt to impeach him on no grounds. At least the Daughters of the American Revolution knew what they were saying, and they said it out loud. He’s black. She’s black, she can’t sing here. These guys today use all of the techniques of nullification and talking about illegitimacy and accusing the president of being a crook basically for even being president because he’s here illegally. And then they talk about impeaching him on grounds they can’t even come up with. At least in the old days they were honest about it. Today, they’re not. And that’s how rough it’s going to be today, I think. – CHRIS MATTHEWS

If There Were a 1% Debate… MLK vs. Romney

What would MLK do? What would MLK say?

There is very little evidence that MLK would have anything good to say about today’s Republican Party. Indeed – for many folks today’s Republican have gone about as low as you can go.

Here is a mash up of points by MLK and “Willard” Romney…

The Black Church Joins Occupy

No surprise here. The Civil Rights Movement was about Justice, including economic justice.

African American pastors express support for Occupy movement

As the country observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant was outside the District headquarters of the Federal Reserve, protesting.

Instead of lingering at an MLK memorial prayer breakfast with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other icons of the civil rights movement, the Rev. Delman Coates also made his way to the protest, which included churchgoers, students and people from the Occupy Wall Streetmovement.

And rather than reminiscing about old speeches and discussing King’s legacy, the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler used his airtime on WPFW, a public radio station, to note the similarities between the Occupy movement and those who camped in “Resurrection City,” in the shadows of the Washington Monument, after King was slain.

growing number of African American pastors in the Washington area are embracing the Occupy movement. In December, leaders of Occupy D.C. left their encampments at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza to worship at Empowerment Temple, Bryant’s church in Baltimore. Hagler has held services on Freedom Plaza. Others donate food and clothing to protesters. And Bryant, who ministers to many in the Maryland suburbs, co-founded Occupy the Dream with former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis Muhammad.

The pastors’ pleas for economic justice sound a lot like King’s.

“This is the continuation of the [civil rights] movement. It was the economic movement that King was killed for,” said Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast Washington.

Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, echoed Hagler’s sentiments.

“When Dr. King was killed, he was . . .fighting for the rights of sanitation workers,” he said. “It is critically important that we relate our faith to issues of economic justice and systemic inequality.”

Some critics say the focus of the Occupy movement, which by design does not have leaders, is unclear. But Bryant, who observed the movement from a distance before deciding he wanted to be part of it, was adamant that Occupy the Dream has a defined agenda.

“Number one, we are asking for more Pell grants so that our young people might be able to compete and go to colleges and universities,’’ he said. “Number two, we are asking for an immediate freezing on foreclosures.” The group is also seeking billions of dollars “from Wall Street for economic development and for job training.”

Beginning in February, Bryant plans to launch a campaign to urge people to pull their money out of their banks and to move it to a minority-owned financial institution.

Bryant, 40, a former national youth director for the NAACP, said his involvement in Occupy the Dream feels like a “coming home” to his civil rights roots.

“I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has held the legacy of Dr. King and has brought the church back into accountability,” Bryant said. “Dr. King would be here today. He wouldn’t be at a breakfast; he wouldn’t be at a mall. He would be here with us.”

But some pastors hesitate to throw their support behind Occupy.

The Rev. William Bennett, pastor of Good Success Christian Church and Ministries in Northeast and a founding member of the Washington Interfath Network, hasn’t joined. But, he said, “I understand what they are fighting for.”

“We have not had an economic time like this since the Great Depression, and it does call for some actions,” Bennett said. “But what I have observed . . . is that there are not clear goals and objectives. The Occupy movement does seem to be organized with a goal to create chaos. The civil rights movement was organized with a clear list of demands.”

The Rev. Joe Watkins, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, said churches should stick to their primary mission.

“The role of the church is to lead people to Christ and to tell them the good news and to live the good news,” Watkins said. “The young people part of the Occupy movement are just as precious as anybody. But the primary focus of the church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (more)

Fred Shuttlesworth – Civil Rights Pioneer

A brave sould has passed. Fred Shuttlesworth was one of the early leaders in Birmingham, Alabama who spoke out from the pulpit – and survived beating beaten and bombed as a result.

Wish we still had some leaders around with his sort of courage.

“I went to jail 30 or 40 times, not for fighting or stealing or drugs.  I went to jail for a good thing, trying to make a difference.” –  Fred Shuttlesworth to a group of schoolchildren in 1997

Birmingham civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth dies

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who was once described by Martin Luther King Jr. as “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South,” died in Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday at age 89.

Shuttlesworth, who had been in declining health, passed away at the Princeton Baptist Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Dodd told Reuters.

A major leader in the civil rights movement, Shuttlesworth was beaten, bombed and injured by fire hoses for his public stances against segregation in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s.

Though he and King worked closely together and both helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Shuttlesworth often bristled against his more contemplative counterpart.

“He was sometimes slow in doing things. Too slow for me,” Shuttlesworth said in an interview at age 85. “He’d meditate on things a lot and agonize over them. I think if things need doing, be about them.”

Shuttlesworth, who served as pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church and several other churches in Birmingham, began hammering away at that city’s hard shell of segregation in the early 1950s.

He formed the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in May 1956 and urged its members to take a stand against segregated buses. He refused to relent even after his home was bombed on Christmas Day in 1956. He and his family escaped unharmed.

“When he came out covered in rubble, we knew he was anointed to lead the movement,” the late Rev. Abraham Woods, a fellow activist, said in a 2007 interview.

Warned by a Klansman police officer to vacate the city, Shuttlesworth said he shot back: “I wasn’t saved to run.”

The minister later was beaten by a mob with baseball bats, chains and brass knuckles as he tried to enroll his children in an all-white school and hospitalized after being sprayed by fire hoses during a demonstration against segregation.

Shuttlesworth once told Reuters he had expected to die by age 40 for his civil rights efforts. He had vowed “to kill segregation or be killed by it.”

For his own safety, he left Alabama in 1961 to lead a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. But he still marshaled forces for change in the South, including helping organize the historic march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

The march ended in a bloody police attack, sparking civil rights protests.

During a commemoration of “Bloody Sunday” in March 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama pushed Shuttlesworth in his wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the attack occurred.

“We have truly lost a great soldier, a warrior for civil rights,” Jefferson County Commission President Pro tem Sandra Little Brown said. “I am serving on the back of the changes that he was a part of for people of color.”

What Would King Do?

This from a website, “Campaign for America’s Future”, written by Terrence Heath -

MLK’s Dream Deferred

Dr. King’s words, invoked during President Obama’s inauguration, suggest what he would call us to remember and how he would challenge us today.

As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at the Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand our boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.

The ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother or sister to a higher and more noble life.”

But he would not stop there.

It was popular in Right Wing circles for a while to try and steal from MLK’s words to justify their perverted logic. Fortunately that level of insanity has largely ceased, if for no other reason than the explosive nature of the “conversations” that typically followed.

Funny thing is, I don’t think King would be fighting just for the poor, and lower middle class in America right now… I think he would be fighting to change a system which has become so perverted there is no reasonable expectation of living as well as our parents did – or being able to hold a job even after pushing all the right buttons along the educational highway while CEOs and Wall Street Barons make billions in bonuses and salary.

Yeah…Something is wrong here.

 

 

Some Issues With Martin Luther King Memorial Surface

Taking a few words at their meaning, out of context with the events, or in some cases hundreds of words surrounding them is a recipe for disaster. In particular, the Rev. Martin Luther King, whose speeches and collective will driven by the righteousness of our cause shook our national psyche to it’s very foundations, left us with a number or speeches and written words left us with a number of “quotable moments” which cannot be distilled without context.

My parents, being educators collected a number of King’s Speeches and much of his oratory on old 33 1/3 RPM records allowing us to go back and review and rehear his speeches, discussions, and debates again and again. I would guess that well North of several thousand published works document the Civil Rights period, making it, WWII, and the Great Depression the most documented and detailed events of the past century.

So it is a little distressing when they get it wrong on the Memorial…

At King ceremony, a chance to bend toward justice

 

The arc of a mistake is long, and it now stretches from the Oval Office over to the Mall.

An error has been etched in marble on the grand Martin Luther King Jr. memorial that was to be dedicated Sunday, on the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Some of King’s speeches and writings have been inscribed in the memorial. But one of the sayings on the wall by the Tidal Basin is incorrect — or incomplete — in its attribution.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

According to David Remnick’s biography of Obama, that is the president’s “favorite quotation.” Obama brought the idea back into present-day parlance and even had it sewn into the rug in the Oval Office when he redecorated last year. But as I wrote on this page last September, King is not the source of that quote. Continue reading

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