King’s radical views remembered

 ‘Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged’ still valid 

 Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington 1963 led us all astray. America was not full of Black and white kids all yearning to live together in racial harmony. Rather, it was the true King that cried out “we can’t wait” and planned to relieve the pain of Black people.

Years before his assassination in 1968, King had the most extraordinary vision of a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged. This little known side of the civil rights leader escaped widespread notice in America.

Uncovered in a few pages tucked away in the back of his book Why We Can’t Wait, published in the year of his “dream” speech, King outlined a bill to counter the effects of centuries of slavery and social oppression.

A bold programme of primarily Black reconstruction was needed on the scale of the Marshall Plan that rejuvenated post war Europe, he said. Funded by a bold governmental policy, King’s Bill of Rights would combat the “misery that haunts Black people” and place them ahead in the competition for individual and collective betterment

Black families, emerging from their blighted neighbourhoods, would be eligible for subsidised quality homes and education. Budding entrepreneurs could negotiate government-backed loans. Health care and insurance would be available at no-cost at special medical centres.

To his detractors, King said, Americans deceive themselves that positive action against shameful conditions is a “black thing”, unfairly affecting “white rights”. However, he knew full well that special measures for the worthy and deprived have always been an accepted principle in the United States.


What’s history got to do with it?

 Decades after his death by a sniper’s bullet 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tenn, Martin Luther King’s call to America to end the war in Viet Nam rings true in the post 9/11 crisis of our times.

For too long, he said, “I was quiet while a charade was being performed”. Then, something said to me, “Martin, you have got to stand up on this. No matter what it means”.

“As I reviewed the events, I saw an orderly build up of evil, an accumulation of inhumanities, each of which alone was sufficient to make men hide in shame. What was woeful, but true, was that my country was only talking peace but was bent on military victory. Inside the glove of peace was the clenched fist of war.”

With these words, King combined a trinity of thoughts. These include his own non-violent beliefs and prophetical themes of the gospel church, a piercing analysis of black exploitation in a segregated society, and a critical view of the moral and political culpability of his nation engaged in foreign wars.

King’s views are elaborated in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr edited by Clayborne Carson. See also the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University

Published in From the mountain top, 2006