Cognition & Reality

Monday, 17 January 2011

MLK, Then And Now

Filed under: Memory,Propaganda,Urban Myths — drtone @ 4:07 pm

Today, we observe Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, although his actual birthday was 15 January and the actual reason that he is celebrated rarely arises in connection with his name. The word “ironic” is misused far more often than it is used correctly, but it is correct in this instance to call the national celebration of MLK’s birthday ironic. As if to demonstrate the malleability of memory, everyone honors him, but that he became a hero by drawing abuse from a thousand precincts has been airbrushed out of the American mind. In these latter daze, it is understood that the forces he faced were wrong or evil, but at the time, he opposed The Establishment, and The Establishment doesn’t take kindly to being opposed.

King is officially beloved. In his time, however, admired though he was by some, he was the most hated man in America. His haters were not sequestered in the Ku Klux Klan or in the White communities of a few Southern states. On the contrary, they freely vilified him on TV and in the press, they abused his name in Congress, and they threw him in jail. J. Edgar Hoover made it his business to use the FBI to turn King’s life upside-down. He was constantly accused of being a womanizer and  a Communist, either or both of which may have been true enough. It is also conveniently forgotten that exactly a year to the day before his assassination, he gave a speech, at liberal Riverside Church in NYC, condemning the War in Vietnam, a war that itself has been the subject of constant revisionism until it has become something good, rather than what is was, one of the worst chapters in the history of our nation. King condemned that war, just as he would have the condemned the twin wars we’re fighting  at this moment, and for much the same reasons.

If King were alive today, he’d be a controversial figure, the subject of continual attempts to marginalize him and his message of economic justice and practical pacifism. You can bet that the Republicans who today speak his name in hushed tones or praise him to the rafters would attack him with the same venom they apply to everything and everyone associated with progressive ideas and liberal causes. It is part and parcel with the success of right-wing propaganda that the official national consciousness does not include bright red notation identifying the forces of the Right as having fought the hardest against Martin Luther King, Jr., and everything he stood for. Hell, they fought against the establishment of a national holiday in his name.

In most instances, victors do have the privilege of writing history, but King’s victory was hijacked by the very forces he opposed, and they have whitewashed (so to speak) their role in his sainthood and martyrdom. As we hear young people, particularly young Blacks, talk about King, they mention his heroism, but they do not seem to grasp that he was a hero because he took on the very warp and woof of the prevailing order, and proceeded to unravel the fabric of society. He was, in this respect, a revolutionary, and paid every day of his adult life for being one.

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