Land's article about King is very flattering. He discusses the two characteristics which we most often want to hear about King: his commitment to nonviolence and his fight against racism. Land particularly liked King's 'moral commitment' to nonviolence. Land is thankful that the 1958 assassination attempt on King failed; otherwise, who knows what bloodshed we would have experienced here during the civil rights movement.
In addition, Land also mentioned two themes from King's last speech in Memphis. The one theme concerned King expecting to be killed soon. The other theme had to do with King's encouragement to the audience that they would get to the "Promised Land." The Promised Land King was referencing was an America that was free from racism. It would fulfill the promises made by our nation's Founding Fathers.
There is nothing earth shattering in the article. The article was meant to offer simple praise to King for his commitment to nonviolence and equality. But if that is all we know about King, then what we don't know is momentous. And one of learning that point is to read or listen to King's speech against the Vietnam War (click here). With that speech, King sowed the seeds of what would become America's disillusionment with him. And America here includes some of his comrades in arms in the battle against racism. For here, not only was King criticizing somewhat popular policies of the government, he was criticizing the actions of our military and dared to call our government 'the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.' Such a message does not sit well with many who value patriotism.
But there is something else here that Land would do well to mention. That something else revolved around why King was in Memphis during his last days. He was there to work for economic justice for Memphis' sanitation workers. Two of King's comments about our economy are telling of his views. The comment comes from King's speech against the Vietnam War (click here):
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n 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 transformed 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; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
Note how King talked about the need to both provide charity and change the system that causes the need for it. King continues to decry the increase in military spending that the war demanded and how those use of funds were hurting efforts to help those in need. We should note that during the last year of his life, King was working on a march on Washington by and for those who lived in poverty.
But perhaps his next statement explicitly shows what King thought our economic problems revolved around:
The trouble is that we live in a failed system. Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. 1And
But what deeply troubles me now is that for all the steps we've taken in integration, I've come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house. 2
King rarely used the term 'capitalism' when talking about its problems, especially not in public. The public was already having enough problems with his views on subjects other than racism.
And though many of us who, deeply appreciate King's contributions to nonviolence and equality, could easily forget the other battles he was fighting, King linked his nonviolent fight against racism with his opposition to militarism and war along with his battle against materialism and economic exploitation (click here).
The King whom Land briefly praises in the article linked to at the beginning of this post is an easy King to like. But when we realize that there is another King who lived, we are faced with a choice of being content with knowing the comfortable King or learning and studying the King who lived.I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
- Death Of A King Tavis Smiley, pg 213