We will never forget his role in leading the nation to the mirror to examine itself. The glance at the ugliness of systemic racism, prejudice and violence was too much and Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His legacy lives on and his movement of nonviolent opposition is the blueprint for change throughout the world.
Nearly 53 years since his demise, the country looks much the same and suffers from the same ills that threatened to bring the country to its knees before his death. Dr. King’s prognosis that “this country is sick” would still probably also be correct. He wouldn’t live to preach this sermon, but had he lived, his message would have explained: “Why America May Go to Hell”. In the sermon, he was to take to task a looming tax bill vote that would undercut and even eliminate provisions for Americans’ “basic necessities of life”. At the time of his demise, Dr. King was not only the dreamer standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He was a strategist who’d taken aim at local economies, industries and businesses whose practices had disenfranchised Americans of all demographics.
A rather routine media coverage opportunity proved rather fortuitous for me because I was able to learn more about Dr. King in one evening than I’d spent my life attempting to learn. In a 2018 King commemoration event in Dallas, The Rev. Dr. William Barber II addressed a sold out gala in Dallas admonishing them not to forget ‘the real Dr. King’. In his address, he admonished them not to sanctify the posthumously sanitized presentation of Dr. King. “He was not a perfect man. He was not a human relations specialist, he wasn’t trying to get everybody to sing “Kum-By-Yah”. He never talked about love without talking about justice. He believed in nonviolence, but he didn’t believe in non-action!” The “real” Dr. King, subject Dr. Barber’s message was one America really never got to know. On this day and everyday, Dr. Barber wants the world to remember the prophet.
“That’s why any attempt to simply popularize him, make a commodity of him, throw commemorative platitudes at him without embracing, embodying and engaging the vision and the call to action that he espoused participates in the destruction of his legacy. In other words, we have to be careful how we remember Dr. King or we actually help destroy him…that my brothers and sisters is a form of ever diminishing hypocrisy that renders any claim to really love the prophet, false! The best way to destroy and distort the legacy and message of a prophet is to revision him as being perfect and popular, of which Martin King was neither…and neither are we. This year especially, we need to remember the real Martin Luther King, Jr. because God knows we need that kind of prophetic edge right now!”The Rev. Dr. William Barber
America marveled at the dreamer, but assassinated the visionary. It’s not enough to honor Dr. King if that day doesn’t coincide with a calendar replete with days and deeds that walk out the tenets of his “I Have a Dream” speech. Though deferred, we will defiantly pursue the dream. For too long blacks have been mislead en masse, and our citizenship mismanaged and misappropriated, but now is the time to magnify Dr. King’s mission. We have not yet overcome, but we will.
As racist Donald Trump supporters brazenly breached the Capitol building in hopes of harming legislators and inciting a rematch of the civil war, it’s clear that this country has neither learned nor heeded Dr. King’s message. If anything, commemorating his birthday is another empty, guilt laden platitude attempting to wash from it the blood on its hands. The last four years have been demonstrative, if nothing else. The United States is not willing to yield its power and has limited its ability to remunerate those it has for centuries disenfranchised.
The years of the Trump presidency were haunting and reminiscent of years in ‘the struggle’. With it, many blacks reverted to militant stances against racist whites and even the government and in succession of President Obama’s two terms, many whites and non-blacks seem poised to never yield back any level of leadership, which has boiled over into the church world. In July 1963, months before their meeting in passing on Capitol Hill, Malcolm X sent a letter to Dr. King saying, “The present racial crisis in this country carries within it powerful destructive ingredients that may soon erupt into an uncontrollable explosion,” Malcolm X wrote. “The seriousness of this situation demands that immediate steps must be taken to solve this crucial problem, by those who have genuine concern before the racial powder keg explodes. A United Front involving all Negro factions, elements and their leaders is absolutely necessary.”
There seems to have been more than one racial powder keg because the name seems an appropriate explanation for last year’s uptick in police brutality. The pervasive ideals of hate groups is prevalent in law enforcement throughout the country. In its study released last year, The Brennan Center said, “The government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient.” This is too dangerous to be accidental. Days later, the Brennan Center published a report by Michael German in which he stated, “…too many local police don’t take the far right seriously — or they actively sympathize with them.”
As the United States celebrates yet another commemoration of Dr. King’s legacy, we have yet another opportunity to not only learn, but to apply the message Dr. King sought to deliver to the world, starting in the United States. We must never forget, charity begins at home!