The real Martin Luther King Jr.

Would Martin Luther King Jr. have been invited to the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington?

I’m not so sure the man honored Wednesday would be a guest of honor at his own march 50 years on.

Why’s that, you ask? Well, Martin Luther King, Jr. probably would rather not share the podium with a politician who may have, by the time this goes to print, authorized the use of military force in Syria – a nation with whom we are not at war.

King would probably also find himself a little bit preoccupied marching with striking fast food and other low-wage workers to worry about the latest Washington nontroversy. It’s worth remembering that King was murdered while supporting a sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tenn., so I’ve got a hard time believing that, were he alive today, King would not be in the streets with the dispossessed and downtrodden among us, fighting still today for a decent wage and a voice on the job.

The good folks at Fox News probably wouldn’t be as cordial to a man that said “There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” If conservative talkers think that President Obama is a “socialist” (a laughable claim) then King must have been Karl Marx in the flesh.

Prior to his tragic assassination, King was planning on another march on Washington – but this one would be aimed at recognizing the abject poverty in which millions of Americans lived in and still live in today. Dubbed the “Poor People’s March on Washington,” King planned to ‘occupy’ Washington before occupying was cool.

The real Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who was never wholly respectable when he was alive. He was denigrated, attacked as a ‘communist’ by his political opponents (who included folks in Washington as well as those in white hoods) and shut out of mainstream political discourse when he dared come out in opposition to the war in Vietnam.

“There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, “Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,” but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children,” said King in a 1968 address entitled “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.”

In an age of endless military commitments overseas, the use of predator drones to strike and kill targets without trial and the use of torture and rendition by these United States, I would wager King would not be very happy with the politicians who now sing his praises.

“If ever I become entirely respectable, I shall be quite sure that I have outlived myself,” said Eugene Debs, another prominent American socialist and opponent of World War I. King, too, has become “entirely respectable,” and we are all worse off for it.

Devin Griggs is president of the Murray State College Democrats.


Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor