I’m just not sure what to think of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) memorial. Either it’s right, or it’s wrong. Either it’s a good thing, or a bad thing.
While I appreciate the fact that now there is such a grand memorial for the man, along side the Lincoln Memorial, I fear it’s all grandstanding in his name, and in his name alone. I fear the real mission and message of MLK is being watered down, if not tossed aside entirely.
I have heard some people praise MLK. But, in other places and at other times, these same people will say or write things that betray the stark reality: they would have hated MLK and his mission if they were alive in the 50s and 60s, or even if MLK was alive today.
I’m especially concerned that fellow Christians can be praising and supporting a false persona, a pseudo-MLK; doing what Dr. Cornel West calls Santa Clausifying MLK. They take for granted that this great Christian leader of the Civil Rights movement would have been, by virtue of being “Christian,” on their side in social and political issues today. However, they seem to fail to acknowledge the content and character of MLK’s actual words and deeds.
MLK was a radical, a leftist. I believe he’d be closer to a democratic socialist, and would be no political ally for the Republicans and Tea Party members today.
What is the government doing with this monument? Has it apologized for how it treated MLK? Would MLK truly appreciate this memorial which was created and opened while there is a President in office (who happens to be black, though that is also very notable in this case) who has repeatedly ignored the poor and working class folks (MLK tied his very life to those people), and is embroiled in numerous wars and conflicts (remember that MLK considered war “an enemy of the poor”)? He would see it as a slap in the face; an utter disregard for anything he had done and said.
Have you read or heard his (in)famous Beyond Vietnam? That’s where you find the profound words,
But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. [emphasis mine]
Or what about his Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” which begins with these words:
Now, I’ve chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.
And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.
America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, we can’t do it this way. They applauded us in the sit-in movement–we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, “Be non-violent toward Bull Connor;” when I was saying, “Be non-violent toward Jim Clark.” There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, “Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,” but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children. There’s something wrong with that press!”
And can someone show me how the following words could be by any means misconstrued to support capitalism, military activities, a continued oppression of the poor within a democratic society that says the poor have value and a voice when they actually have anything but?
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
If you haven’t experienced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s preaching of this sermon, take the 20 minutes to listen.
These are not the words that my politically conservative brothers and sisters could or would hold up as their own platform. The inconsistency and the incompatible positions give me pause, especially when I look at what I say and do myself with respect to MLK, the poor, the working class, the homeless, those struggling to survive around the globe. Am I being inconsistent? Am I saying things that are incompatible with a cry out to help the poor?
Who MLK was is not who we often make him out to be today. We forget the struggles. We deny the reality of his message. We whitewash the truth and replace with a pat on the back what was truly bloody stripes from a whip.
So what am I to think of the memorial? Just appreciate it for the piece of artwork it is? Forget what I just wrote above and applaud the wonderful work for civil rights he stood and died for? Or use this as an opportunity to push forward his true message, one that I still fear will not be allowed to have a presence on the memorial grounds?