On Monday, white America will celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 91st birthday, even though he was born on Jan. 15 in 1929.
And just like white America got the date wrong, it also got MLK himself wrong. Or, better stated, it continues to treat him wrong by appropriating instead of appreciating this revolutionary. Yes, I said revolutionary — and I meant it, too. I’ll explain why shortly.
By the way, if y’all white folks play that 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech one more damn time, I’m gonna scream! That speech wasn’t even his first at the Lincoln Memorial. MLK had already given one six years earlier in 1957 in front of a massive crowd of up to 30,000.
He is much more than that 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. He is much bigger than that 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. He is a revolutionary “recidivist ex-con” who had been jailed 29 times for his “anti-social” behavior. And if he said today in 2020 what he said back in 1963, which was that “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” y’all white folks would call the cops on him. And they’d beat him, shoot him, and/or kill him.
Before I explain his indisputable revolutionary street cred, allow me to explain white America’s appropriation of MLK. This country treats him as if he were some kind of malleable clay that it can mold into exactly whatever it needs him to be, which is a milquetoast, flag-waving, white folks-absolving, capitalist accommodationist. But he was none of that. Quite the contrary, he was a composed rabble-rousing, USA racism-condemning, white folks-castigating, socialistic disruptor.
You want proof? Here’s the proof. It’s irrefutable and chronological:
His first act of civil rights protesting occurred in 1950 when he was a mere 21 years old and it happened not far from Philly in Maple Shade, N.J., while he was living in Camden and attending classes at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester as reported by Patrick Duff, a local historical researcher/investigator. MLK, then known by his birth name, Michael, was refused service at Mary’s Cafe in Maple Shade because of his race. When he insisted upon being permitted to purchase a ginger ale beverage there, the proprietor pulled a gun and fired shots in the air. Instead of taking no for an answer, MLK filed a complaint with the police and the shooter was arrested. He later called that incident his first civil rights activism.
MLK in 1956 applied for a license to carry one of the many guns he kept for self-protection and family protection at his home, which was described by an eyewitness reporter as an “arsenal.”
MLK wrote in his 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” that he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.”
In 1964, MLK met with Malcolm X in Washington, D.C.
In 1966, MLK met with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad at Muhammad’s Chicago home. Two years later, after more than just one meeting with Muhammad, MLK told Harry Belafonte, “You know we fought long and hard for integration. ... But ... I’ve come to the realization that ... we may be integrating into a burning house.”
Most white Americans, totaling about 75% in an early 1968 Harris Poll and more than 66% in a 1966 Gallup Poll, had an “unfavorable” opinion of MLK.
MLK in 1966 said, “There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism” and in the following year said, “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism ... and racism.”
In 1967, MLK described the Vietnam War as racist and genocidal because America was asserting its “deadly Western arrogance” by testing chemical weapons on “Vietnamese peasants” similar to what Germany did to Jewish people during the Holocaust.
A Memphis jury in 1999 reached a verdict in favor of Coretta Scott King’s and other family members’ wrongful death lawsuit by ruling that the assassination of MLK was a “conspiracy” and that American “governmental agencies” were involved.
After white America murdered MLK on April 4, 1968, he was no longer a threat to this nation’s systemically brutal racism. It was then that white America publicly transformed this composed, rabble-rousing, USA racism-condemning, white folks-castigating, socialistic disruptor into a milquetoast, flag-waving, white folks-absolving, capitalist accommodationist.
But woke Black folks ain’t having it. We see white America’s fake appreciation and we’re exposing its actual appropriation. And we’re gonna continue MLK’s relentless battle for radical change “by any means necessary” as he (hopefully) whispered to Malcolm during their 1964 meeting.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinions on phillytrib.com.