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!!!

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…

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

The Comic Book Which Rocked the World

Apparently the hottest reading in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East right now is a comic book

Only instead of phantasmal “super-heroes” with otherworldly super-powers, this book is about normal folks, a real “super-hero” who inspired with words and faith, and a key event in American Civil Rights – The Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (Visit this site to read the books in English, Arabic, or Farsi)

HAMSA, in conjunction with our parent organization AIC, is proud to announce the release of a groundbreaking Arabic edition of a 50-year-old comic book on Martin Luther King and the power of nonviolence. Several thousand copies were printed in Cairo, as part of an effort spearheaded by AIC-Egypt Director Dalia Ziada (right). They are being distributed across the Middle East.

Called “The Montgomery Story,” the comic book was published in 1958 and helped inspire the American civil-rights movement in the 1960s. In 2008, it was translated and designed by young reformers in the Mideast. It features full-color panels depicting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a campaign to end segregation on buses in the capitol of Alabama. The comic book ends with a section on “how the Montgomery Method works,” outlining essential techniques of nonviolence.

After an initial run of just 2,500 books – the Montgomery Story and King’s message has caught on like wildfire throughout the Middle East. Copies are available online, and are being actively distributed electronically by bloggers across the Internet.

The Arabic comic book has now been distributed in print and on-line to a network of young activists and bloggers throughout the Middle East, including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen. Feedback has been enthusiastic. At a book fair in the Egyptian industrial city of Mahalla, one woman grabbed the comic book with passion and scanned the cover, asking, “Is this Gamal Abdel Nasser?”

Farsi version of the comic was rushed into production in June of 2009 as post-election protests were erupting. Translators in Iran helped put it together in a week, and the comic was soon being distributed digitally. The Montgomery Bus Boycott had resonance in Iran with the 2005 Tehran bus protests, which made headlines when one trade unionist, Mansour Osanloo, had his tongue cut by members of the Islamic Republic for seeking improved working conditions for his fellow bus drivers.

As with the violence in Iran, “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” cautioned that brutality often accompanies steps towards peace. Scenes of a Ku Klux Klan parade, a cross burning, and the bombings of Negro churches and homes were vividly depicted within its pages. An impassioned King is seen imploring an angry crowd:

“Please be peaceful. We believe in law and order. We are not advocating violence. I want you to love our enemies, for what we are doing is right, what we are doing is just – and God is with us.”

The Revolution may not be televised… But it will cover the world.

BTW kiddies, this has also been translated into Vietnamese and Spanish…

Bernice King Rejects SCLC Leadership Job

Bernice King

In another meltdown, MLK daughter Bernice King has refused the leadership position at the Southern Christian Leadership Council her father founded. The organization has recently been riven by infighting and scandal.

MLK daughter’s exit leaves SCLC’s future in doubt

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is facing an uncertain future following the decision of Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter to walk away from the embattled civil rights organization.

The Rev. Bernice King said this week that she would not take the helm of the group that her father founded in 1957 and that elected her president in 2009.

The once-proud organization has split into two factions, had its finances scrutinized and saw its former chairman indicted last week on theft charges.

Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young says the group might have run its course and that Bernice King made a wise decision. He says “we should’ve closed it down years ago.”

Young was a close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., as the group led nonviolent protests for equality for African-Americans and social justice.

Rejecting the Hate on the 28th

Ed hosts Al Sharpton to discuss the March to reject Beck’s KKK Rally on the Mall on the 28th of August, the anniversary of the MLK “I Have a Dream” Speech.

If you can – be there in the spirit of King and the Freedom Riders.

Now in case you missed it, or have been living in right wing hate land where the local provider doesn’t carry anything except Faux News…

War in the Streets, DC Aug 28th

This one is an invitation to a disaster…

Beck/Palin rally permit approved

The National Park Service said Thursday that it has approved the permit for the Aug. 28 Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

Park Service spokesman Bill Line said the permit indicates that organizers expect 300,000 people to attend. Line said it is a “fixed rally” without a march. The rally will go from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The park service is processing a permit request for a counter demonstration and rally by the Rev. Al Sharpton on the same day along Independence Avenue, south of the memorial. Line said the Sharpton rally organizers list 3,000 expected attendees on their permit request.

11 Martin Luther King Quotes

Sometimes it’s good to go back and review a few lessons from the Master. In that vein – 10 +1 Quotes from MLK -

  1. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
  2. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. –Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964
  3. Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.
  4. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
  5. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
  6. When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
  7. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. –letter from Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963
  8. The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers. –”Strength to Love”
  9. I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
  10. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. –”Strength to Love”

And Number 11?

The one Mssrs Robertson and Limbaugh, and a bunch of their ilk, should have tattoed to their foreheads -

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.


Ted Kennedy on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

more about “Ted Kennedy on the Assassination of M…“, posted with vodpod

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