Friday, April 04, 2008

As in a Dream 

An assortment of links in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered forty years ago today:
[Y]ou see a lot of chit-chat about Martin every year and Martin has been so domesticated and tamed and defamed, you know, what we call the Santa Clausification of the brother . . . .

He just becomes a nice little old man with a smile with toys in his bag, not a threat to anybody, as if his fundamental commitment to unconditional love and unarmed truth does not bring to bear certain kinds of pressure to a status quo. So the status quo feels so comfortable as though it's a convenient thing to do rather than acknowledge him as to what he was, what the FBI said, "The most dangerous man in America." Why? Because of his fundamental commitment to love and to justice and trying to keep track of the humanity of each and every one of us . . . .

We have to be clear that, when we're talking about towering freedom fighters like a Nelson Mandela or a James Brown, I'll say the same thing about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and others, these folk are such powerful forces that [they] are threats to powers that be. Of course, Jesus is a grand example; I'll speak as a Christian. And, of course, we've seen Jesus being Santa Clausified the last two thousand years.
King had been reluctant to involve himself in the sanitation workers' labor grievances in Memphis. He was planning the campaign of his life and was frazzled beyond recognition. He'd first thought of the idea in the autumn after the agonizing 1966 Chicago campaign: a general strike of the poor in the nation's capital. "We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on. People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, 'We are here; we are poor; we don't have any money; you have made us this way; you keep us down this way; and we've come to stay until you do something about it." What his exertions had already won--the right to vote; the right to a lunch counter hamburger--had long ago begun to feel to him a mockery. Americans still remained indifferent, perhaps even more than before, to the abject racialized privation in their midst. He said the Kerner Report showed how "the lives, the incomes, the well-being of poor people everywhere in America are plundered by our economic system." He now frankly called himself a socialist.

The plan, as it shaped up through early '68, was for the initial assault on D.C. to come on Eastertide: one hundred leaders lobbying for a government jobs or guaranteed income program. That failing, 3,000 destitute Americans would "tent in" on the Mall. If that didn't get results King imagined a "massive outpouring of hundreds of thousands of persons" the weekend of June 15. Civil disobedience had never been attempted on such a scale. To transform what he now called "a sick, neurotic nation" would require disruption "as dramatic, as dislocative, as attention-getting as the riots without destroying life or property." "The city will not function," he'd told reporters after his testimony to the Kerner Commission. He spoke of similar demonstrations nationwide: "We got to go for broke this time" . . . .

What happened next was the lead story in the next day's New York Times. "Dr. King was whisked away from the march.... He was reportedly taken to a motel and could not be reached immediately. His office in Atlanta also declined to comment.... The destruction that broke out at various points along the march is expected to raise more questions about Dr. King's projected crusade in Washington next week." This was all the proof some needed: the appearance of Dr. Martin Luther King brought forth riots. Or, at least, couldn't stop them.

He led another procession the next day. It was ringed this time by 4,000 National Guardsmen. The garbagemen known locally on their rounds as "walking buzzards" marched wearing placards reading "I Am A Man." For each one, a helmeted guardmsan stood planted a yard or so away, rifle pointed at the ready at their heads.

King insisted, "We are fully determined to go to Washington. We feel it is an absolute necessity.... Riots are here. Riots are part of the ugly atmosphere. I cannot guarantee that riots will not take place this summer. I can only guarantee that our demonstration will not be violent." Senator Byrd, chair of the D.C. subcommittee, called for a court order to stop him: "If this self-seeking rabble-rouser is allowed to go through with his plans here, Washington may well be treated to the same kind of violence, destruction, looting, and bloodshed." Edward Brooke, the Negro Senator, agreed. "How do you avoid assembling that many people under the inflammable conditions that exist today where one little spark--some irresponsible kid--could set it off?" . . . .

Sunday morning Dr. King preached at National Cathedral: "I don't like to predict violence, but if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope I feel that this summer will not only be as bad but worse than last year." Then he gave a press conference to send a chill down the President's spine: if he got no results in his Poor People's Campaign by August, he said, Democrats "will have a real awakening in Chicago"--where they would be holding their national convention to renominate Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Chicago Tribune editorialized that King claimed to be for nonviolence "while clandestinely conspiring with the most violent revolutionaries in the country." They quoted J. Edgar Hoover: King was "the most notorious liar in the country."
According to a Memphis jury's verdict on December 8, 1999, in the wrongful death lawsuit of the King family versus Loyd Jowers "and other unknown co-conspirators," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government. Almost 32 years after King's murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, a court extended the circle of responsibility for the assassination beyond the late scapegoat James Earl Ray to the United States government.

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