50 Years Without MLK?!

Martin Luther King JrOne can’t exactly celebrate this day, 50 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. But it brings up a lot of thoughts.

The first is how much I hate the deification of King. When he was alive, he was hated by northerners and southerners alike. And if he hadn’t been assassinated, he would still be hated by those on the right in this country. If he were alive today, he’d be treated the same way as Jesse Jackson. And do you remember the way he was treated by the Democrats in 1988?

But what really bugs me is the way that conservatives try to take Martin Luther King Jr for their own. They know next to nothing about King. They certainly don’t know about his still radical ideas of economic equality. Yet at least once a year, we have to hear a bunch of Republicans claim that we live in the Promised Land and so King would side with them now. What a joke!

Family Memories

When he was younger, my father was a member of the John Birch Society. And to this day, you cannot convince my father that King did not, in fact, visit the Soviet Union. I believe that was propaganda the FBI spread.

My father is also convinced that Martin Luther King Jr was a communist. Now you have to start with the fact that my father has no idea what a communist is. But it’s clear that King wasn’t too fond of capitalism. Neither is my father’s son. The truth is that in this country, “communist” is the same as “boogeyman.” It doesn’t mean anything. It was just the totalitarian system used by the Soviet Union. And I’m not at all certain that the people of Russia today are better off. Oh, Putin is elected, but he gets to choose who he runs against.

But speaking of embarrassing family members, there was an interesting discussion about Martin Luther King Jr over at New York, What Do We Forget About MLK? It’s short and worth reading, but here is quote from Ed Kilgore, who grew up in the south in the 1960s:

I happened to be visiting some of my rural relatives right after the assassination. The “nicer” among them were unhappy that so many Yankee politicians attended MLK’s funeral. But I mostly remember my sweet “old maid” great aunt saying that if she could find the assassin, she’d take him in and hide him and feed him and care for him the rest of his life.

Martin Luther King Jr Is No Threat Now

I really don’t think we’ve changed much. We just know what not to say publicly. I’ve seen it in more distant parts of my family. When they think they are safe (and why they think they are safe around me is anyone’s guess), they will say the most racist things. I see our society as being very much like it was in 1968, but with a patina of respectability covering over it.

And you don’t have to look hard. There have been numerous studies that show that identical resumes get interviews more often if they have a white sounding name than if they have a black sounding name. And the people making these hiring decisions aren’t illiterate southern bigots. They are people with college educations who doubtless see themselves as being color blind. But the truth is there in their subconsciouses.

The New Racism

Frankly, I would prefer if people would just be more honest. It seems like what we’ve done over the last fifty years has been to bury our racism. There are no longer laws keeping black people from moving into your neighborhood. But economic inequality does the job just as well. As The Conversation put it:

While racial segregation in US schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since — to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

I think what I want to say on this anniversary is that at the time, most whites didn’t have a problem with Martin Luther King Jr being assassinated. They do now because he is no longer a threat to their lives. That’s what it all comes down to.

Afterword: Noor Salman Found Not Guilty

It’s been a few days, the jury in the Noor Salman case took only 12 hours to find her not guilty. It’s not surprising. The case against her was terrible. Basically, all the prosecution had against her was an initialed confession after 11 hours of interrogation. The defense was able to show that over half of it wasn’t true. So clearly, the FBI created the statement and pressured this poor woman to accept it. If I know anything about cops, it is this: they promised her if she initialed it, they would let her go home with her son.

I may write more about this later. But for the moment, I’m very pleased.

3 replies on “50 Years Without MLK?!”

  1. James Fillmore says:

    My dad was a Bircher, too. I remember watching an 80’s TV miniseries about King, starring Paul Winfield, on a little B&W TV in my bedroom. My parents let me watch it because it was “educational.” After the last episode, my dad came into my room; I didn’t know he’d been watching it. “I never liked Martin Luther King,” he said. I wiped my eyes off and said “me too,” trying to impress the patriarch. (I was 10 or so.) My dad continued, “but he shouldn’t have been killed.” “No, no,” I agreed.

    I don’t know what this story means except “kids are cowards,” but it’s a vivid memory. It’s interesting that at 10 or so, in the early 1980s, I hadn’t learned the first thing about King in school. Not even the basic sanitized version.

  2. Jay McCollough (Mack) says:

    Frank, it’s really strange, but I get the same thing from certain relatives. I’ve been outspoken about my hatred for racism since I was a kid, but for some reason they feel safe saying some of the most disgusting things not just around me, but TO me. Maybe they think that I’ll assimilate their prejudice? Whatever the case, I think people in liberal areas would be shocked to hear some of the things people say, even as far north as PA. Case in point, I remember a number of my classmates back in high school on MLK Day saying “happy James Earl Ray appreciation day” and feeling very clever about themselves. You should hear some of the “jokes.” Many don’t even have a pretense of being funny, they just say some of the most hateful and ugly things about people from other tribes. Really disheartening.

    • James Fillmore says:

      @Mack — Same here. It’s almost an axiom that when someone says “why are you offended, it was just a joke,” the thing they said was intentionally cruel and not remotely funny.

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