Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr

The birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was first celebrated as a national holiday in 1986. Its celebration was resisted by many states, for reasons too obvious to delineate here. By the year 2000, all states of the Union officially celebrated Dr. King’s birthday.

The fact that it took 14 years for a handful of recalcitrant states to celebrate the holiday is very telling. Dr. King, like Nelson Mandela, has had myth and legend encased on his memory, both in his life and after his death. And these myths tend to obscure the real man, the man of flesh and bone, the man with passion and thought.

We all remember and revere his stance for peace. But we cannot forget that he wielded peace like a weapon. His peace wasn’t a comfortable peace. To quote from another time, he wasn’t asking “Can’t we all just get along”.

He stood against a racial apartheid as pernicious as that which exiled South Africa from the community of nations. He stood against establishment assumptions of American empire and American militarism. He stood against the received wisdom of American capitalism.

He is too often seen now as an anodyne figure, someone who spoke to the better angels of our nature, someone who can be embraced by both left and right. (Well, some of the right. Some of them are beyond redemption.)

Peace was his tactic, and his belief. But it served something which was radical. Although he and Malcolm X spoke in different metaphors, they had much of the same view of the corrupted American experiment. It was an experiment which, at its inception, relegated slaves and the freed children of slaves to oppression and denigration. It was an experiment which depended upon keeping down the working class. It was an experiment which thrived by pitting natural allies against each other, based on culture, religion, race. It was an experiment which arrogated to itself the rights of empire as natural, exporting its system as a panacea for what ailed the world, blind to its own glaring failings.

When Dr. King spoke out against the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson was infuriated. Here he had handed the South to the Republican Party in his effort to get civil rights legislation passed, and Dr. King spoke out against the war which was wrapped around the president’s neck.

And that act shows why we misread Dr. King as merely an apostle of peace. He was that; but it was peace serving a larger purpose. It was peace as a way of exposing the inherent contradictions of the American myth. A republic of freedom founded on slavery. An empire of liberty which slaughtered the native inhabitants. A nation of immigrants which then turned against new waves of immigrants.

He began as a civil rights activist. He trained as a preacher. But on that April night in Memphis, he emerged as a prophet. In his last years he spoke the truths which the country needed to hear. The nation needed to hear these truths if it were ever to live up to its founding mythologies.

A house cannot stand divided. What was true in the fissures between north and south, is equally true in a political climate where enmity and hatred are stoked by actors seeking after their own wealth and power, uncaring of the effect it has on their fellow countrymen.

A nation cannot endure half slave, half free. It was true in the times of chattel slavery. It is equally true in a time of increasing income inequality, where the dreams of a secure life slip away from greater numbers of people.

What we cannot forget about Dr. King is that he spoke to these issues. He wielded peace like a sword, cutting away at the comfortable lies we all told ourselves, blind to the contradictions which informed the country’s politics, economics, and culture.

I was born a year after Dr. King’s assassination. And I grew up with the comforting image of the peaceful man. He was a peaceful man. But he was a man of iron, with a strong will, diagnosing the diseases which wracked a country which, when he was born, didn’t consider him an equal citizen. The way of peace is the hardest path, and that was the path which Dr. King chose to change his country.

As we remember his life today, let’s remember it clearly. In that way we can continue to carry out his work.

102 Responses to “Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr”

  1. 4 Nerdy Wonka
    January 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Great piece LL.

    I am steaming mad.

    It’s disgusting when organizations, politicians, or Snowden fans co-opt African-American leaders, activists, icons for their bullshit. They’re never there with us when we need help and are fighting for equality or a space at the table. Noooooo, they’re there to co-opt our people who fought for revolutionary ideals and are revered around the world. I see that PETA is being called out on Twitter and thank goodness.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not comparable to an animal. Slavery is NOTHING like what animals experience. NOTHING is like slavery. Don’t degrade African-Americans and people who died due to slavery for some bloody insane crap. They’ve lost their ever-loving minds.


    The fate of animals today is similar to that of humans who were subjected to slavery and other civil rights injustices—they, too, are tortured, abused, and neglected as humans once were and sometimes still are. More than 63 billion animals are slaughtered every year in the United States for the food industry, without even a thought to their feelings or needs.

    Read more: http://www.peta.org/features/martin-luther-king-jr-animal-rights/#ixzz2qxjqPmQG

    • January 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Oh, PETA, never missing a chance to miss the point.

      Look, I’m all for treating animals humanely. And, perhaps if I were a better person, I would be a vegetarian. But, first and foremost I’m a humanist, and I place humanity at the center of my concern, because it is humanity which has the sole power to shape the world, for good or ill. A bear won’t write a sonata, and a whale doesn’t have his finger on the nuclear button.

      Thanks, my lovely Nerd, and happy MLK Day.

    • January 20, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      That is just beyond belief, stunningly offensive.

      • January 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

        PETA is the ur-emo organization, the emos from which all other emos descend.

      • 12 Nerdy Wonka
        January 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm

        My jaw dropped in disbelief after reading the post and seeing the pictures. I understand and support championing for humane animal conditions. It is right for animals to have safe and loving homes but to compare slavery to animals is breathtakingly offensive.

        Slavery is a horror that this country wrought upon people for no other reason than they didn’t like the color of their skin. People were sold like chattel. Mothers were raped by plantation masters, fathers were separated from their wives and children. Men, women, and children were lynched.

        As though slavery were not horrific enough, institutional racism was allowed to flourish in the guise of Jim Crow laws, education laws, social norms and the like.

        African-Americans and other minorities are still facing so many barriers in terms of voting, education, income, subtle and outright racism and the one day where the entire nation and world celebrates a man who along with many others changed so much for African-Americans and other races, PETA chooses to do this?

        There truly are some conscienceless people in this world.

        • January 20, 2014 at 1:29 pm

          I couldn’t even read it Nerdy, the tweet was nauseating enough. It was bad enough today to read dicks comparing Edward Snowden to MLK, now this. Disgusting, disgusting people, they reveal so much about themselves with this kind of shit.

    • 14 jackiegrumbacher
      January 20, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      NW, PETA might as well as well have issued a tweet saying we are idiots and have no clue what we’re talking about. I am a vegetarian because I’m against the slaughtering of animals for food. I’m against cruelty of any sort, especially to animals that can’t fight back. But only a group that has become totally unhinged from reality (and basic common sense) could speak of animal cruelty in the same breath as Martin Luther King. I don’t know how many times PETA has shot itself in the foot with its stupidity, but it has seriously wounded itself today. They need to all go on a retreat and meditate on the idea that it’s better to keep silent and be thought an idiot then open your mouth and prove it.

  2. 16 vcprezofan2
    January 20, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Short and sweet – thanks Lib_L.

    One of the points I like = “we misread Dr. King as merely an apostle of peace. He was that; but it was peace serving a larger purpose. It was peace as a way of exposing the inherent contradictions of the American myth.”

    • January 20, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      hello VC…

      that was my favorite line from LLs great essay on Dr King….as well..

      I want add a lil more……..

      “And that act shows why we misread Dr. King as merely an apostle of peace. He was that; but it was peace serving a larger purpose. It was peace as a way of exposing the inherent contradictions of the American myth. A republic of freedom founded on slavery. An empire of liberty which slaughtered the native inhabitants. A nation of immigrants which then turned against new waves of immigrants”

  3. January 20, 2014 at 1:07 pm

  4. 20 Nerdy Wonka
    January 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm

  5. 23 yardarm756
    January 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Brought over from end of last thread. Just had to vent a bit.

    Good afternoon everyone. Sorry I’m late but I woke to all the hypocrisy on and in the media and became ill. Remembering the venom that was out there and now some of those people are talking about how great MLK was……It makes me sick. I lived through all that and all that really sticks with me are phrases like, “What do ya’ll want?”, ” You’re moving too fast”, “Why can’t you stay on your side of town?.
    Now Dr. King is romanticized to the point that you’d think he was a rethug idea all together. To hear them tell it, they were all on the bridge to Selma. And how great the “I have a Dream” speech was……..They don’t seem to remember about the “check” that has been returned marked insufficient funds.
    Enough of my rant. We’ll get to that post racial nirvana as soon as they get that black man out of the White House………I’m still pissed!

  6. 28 GGail
    January 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Good West Coast morning Chipsticks, LL & TOD family.

    Our MLK Day Parade (west on MLK Blvd to Crenshaw) will be starting in a few minutes and the theme is “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”. One of Dr. King’s favorite hymn.

    LL, on another topic….my comment on your Novels in Progress is Waiting in Moderation. Thx!

    • 31 desertflower
      January 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      🙂 Hurray!!!!

      • 32 57andfemale
        January 20, 2014 at 1:42 pm

        This is a BFD. Doctors forced to abide by RWNJ talking points was outrageous.

        • 33 desertflower
          January 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm

          Of course it was:) The hypocrisy of all this is absolutely stunning to me, as well. Wonder if this ruling will effect those community “health centers” that are nothing more than RW propaganda palaces..

    • 34 jackiegrumbacher
      January 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      57, I’m glad to see that some judges are stepping up to the plate to push back on women’s rights and voter ID. It’s about time we countered the Tea Party lunacy with some sanity.

  7. 35 desertflower
    January 20, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/europe-to-america-we-want-your-gas-20140116 You just have to smile, don’t you? Reason # 4 trillion why they hate PBO….

  8. January 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

  9. 39 MightyPamela
    January 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    99ts ~ when you check in, I left a comment on last night’s Portrait thread… You have my support!! 😉

    • 40 99ts
      January 20, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Hi MP – I saw the comment – you should start a business advising on the down sizing 🙂

      I thought about hiring a commercial shredder firm – but there have been cases – of course related to government – where the documents were found – fully intact – floating in the wind – so I prefer not to out source – as governments shouldn’t outsource.

      You are right about electronic docs however. I have been avoiding getting my bills/bank statements that way – but I got online yesterday and changed the lot.

      But the documents are just the start! It will be an interesting 18 months.

      • 41 MightyPamela
        January 20, 2014 at 7:36 pm

        Oh, yes, interesting without a doubt! On the bright side, at least you have 18 months and not a fleeting six weeks!! You guys will ace it, I am sure!!

  10. 43 anniebella
    January 20, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    No coverage of FLOTUS and POTUS today MLK National Day of Service.

  11. 46 Eveingeorgia
    January 20, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    @LiberalLibrarian, your piece on Dr. King is wonderful. Thank you for portraying the man and not the myth

  12. 47 Linda
    January 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    An aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R) plans to hold a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon to push back even more against allegations involving hurricane relief money raised over the weekend by the mayor of Hoboken, N.J.

    Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged on Saturday that the governor’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief money unless she approved a real estate project the governor favored.

    Marc Ferzan, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, plans to give a briefing to reporters at 2 p.m. and take questions on the call.

    “In light of recent and categorically false accusations regarding the distribution of Superstorm Sandy recovery funds by the Christie Administration, Marc Ferzan, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, will hold a media briefing call today to provide an accurate update on the distribution of Sandy funds and take questions,” a press release announcing the call said.


    • 48 99ts
      January 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      So the media will throw a few softball questions – I would like someone to ask about the $38 million paid to a computer firm for software to manage the funds!! Wonder if it allows them to fix the figures after the event

  13. January 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

  14. 56 Nerdy Wonka
    January 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    • 57 Linda
      January 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      The North Jersey Media Group sued former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her political action committee in Manhattan Federal Court last September, claiming copyright infringement over the use of an iconic 9/11 photograph.

      Sarah Palin won’t have home court advantage. Mama Grizzly has lost her bid to have a lawsuit filed against her by a New Jersey company moved to a court in her native Alaska.

      Newspaper publisher North Jersey Media Group sued Palin and her political action committee in Manhattan Federal Court last September, claiming copyright infringement over the use of an iconic 9/11 photograph.

      The former Republican vice presidential candidate moved to have the case dismissed or moved to Alaska Federal Court.

      Manhattan Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein instead moved the case to where the plaintiff is located, New Jersey Federal Court, in a ruling Friday.


      The Tundra Twit will have to go to New Jersey ….hahahahahhaa…….

  15. 59 Nerdy Wonka
    January 20, 2014 at 2:01 pm

  16. 63 dotster3
    January 20, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    • January 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      So great to see Sasha now so tall that she doesn’t need to stand on a box. It’s been a great five years!

      • 65 jackiegrumbacher
        January 20, 2014 at 3:58 pm

        She is such fine young woman, Theo, and has now had more interesting life experiences at 12 than many girls have in a lifetime. I am so glad the Obama family spends time giving back–their children can’t learn a better lesson.

  17. 66 JER
    January 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    • 67 Linda
      January 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      That photographer, Doug Mills was the guest on c-span’s Q & A last night……

      He discussed the complaints photographers have with the Press people in the WH….but really did not go after them much…He just discussed the frustration..

      He had very good things to say about the First Family and Pete Souza.

      They showed a lot of pictures.

  18. 68 JER
    January 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

  19. January 20, 2014 at 2:23 pm

  20. January 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm

  21. 75 JER
    January 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm

  22. 79 Linda
    January 20, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — At least nine people have been hospitalized and others could be trapped after an explosion and partial building collapse at an Omaha animal feed processing plant.

    Interim Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger (KANG’-ur) said Monday that nine workers have been sent to hospitals. He says firefighters are searching the building for anyone who may have been trapped by the blast or the falling debris. He declined to comment on possible fatalities.

    Family members who have gathered outside the International Nutrition plant say they’ve received cellphone calls from their loved ones inside who told them one or two people may be missing or trapped.

    The fire and explosion were reported at 10 a.m. Plant officials declined to comment to The Associated Press.

  23. 83 JER
    January 20, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    LIVE VIDEO – http://www.ketv.com/news/local-news/building-explosion-reported-in-south-central-omaha/-/9674510/24015746/-/puh8fy/-/index.html

    Explosion, partial building collapse – At least 10 people have been taken to area hospitals and others are missing after an industrial accident in south central Omaha.

  24. 84 forus50
    January 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm

  25. 89 Linda
    January 20, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    South Carolina Senate Candidate Suggests Teachers Should Be Able To Carry Machine Guns In School


    • 90 Layla
      January 20, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Well…what about canons!!!! What!! No canons! I say we protest!!!!~!

    • 91 vcprezofan2
      January 20, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      I can just imagine an unbalanced teacher, ticked off by a disrespectful student, losing his (more than likely) cool. Sigh! O, how does one bring back common sense?

      • 92 Layla
        January 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

        A 5 million march on Washington may just capture someone’s attention!

        • 93 vcprezofan2
          January 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm

          Maybe, but does there have to be a march to capture their (politicians’) attention each time something important needs to be done? Sigh.

      • 94 Obama Grandmama
        January 20, 2014 at 7:22 pm

        When a teacher sets down the loaded machine gun to help a student with a problem and another student grabs it what then?

        • 95 vcprezofan2
          January 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm

          OG, these gun obsessed people show little, or no, common sense. There is so much potential for accidents in the teachers-allowed-guns scenario. What I find most disappointing is that ideas like these get little effective push-back There is no way I would want my child attending a school where teachers are armed!.

  26. 96 donna dem 4 obama
    January 20, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Lawd Have Mercy!!

    • 98 jackiegrumbacher
      January 20, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Oh geez, Donna, I’m surprised the mother is still alive. This is actually a very unhealthy birth weight and babies this big are put in pediatric intensive care to check for diabetes. I hope this little one doesn’t carry this over into obesity at an early age.

    • 99 nospin
      January 20, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      my hubby was a 15 pounder as well. For years I was hesitant to have kids after we married. Thought I would end up being split from the rooter to the tooter. thankfully we had multiples so they were small.

  27. January 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I was 11 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was slain.

    I remember the horror – my parents (2 years younger than he was) were adamant supporters of his non-violent way to end the US form of apartheid (segregation).

    I remember discussing our disgust at a nation that could allow the assassination of someone who sought reforms that everyone should find reasonable using non-violent protests – in the school yard.

    Of course, I couldn’t understand the English – but I could follow the Dutch sub-titles on the news, which learned me that he forsaw that he – as Moses – would not enter the Promised Land (which would value him for the content of his character, not chide him for the color of his skin).

  28. 102 Djoy4ful
    January 20, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Hello Everyone,
    Just had a wonderful time this morning at the Martin Luther King Ecumenical Interfaith Breakfast in Raleigh, North Carolina. The NC Triangle area is celebrating its 34th year of honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

    Take a few to listen to the keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Otis Moss speak – once you hear him, you will never forget the experience – its inspirational, spiritual and truth telling. We are truly blessed to have him!

    These videos are available for viewing for a limited time only. Many thanks to the local WRAL TV, for making them available at all!

    Rev Dr. Otis Moss – 2014 MLK Breakfast, Raleigh, NC ( http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/13312335/ )

    Would those with a mastery of the art of the tweet, please share Rev. Moss’ speech. His powerful message deserves to be heard far and wide.

    Blessings, Donna from Raleigh

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