What is Martin Luther King Day? If a child asked you this question, you might respond confidently, ‘This is a day we remember a great man, Martin Luther King.’ But is it? Sure the day is named after King, but do we remember him on it? Do we really remember him at all?
Considering the overwhelming santaclausification of King into some jolly impotent figure from long past history, I would say that the fearless radical anti-war activist criminal alive just a few decades ago who the FBI called “the most dangerous man in America” is hardly really remembered. Misremembered, yes. Truly remembered, no.
As Professor Cornel West said back in 2010, “We have to resist the ‘santaclausification’ of Martin Luther King. I don’t want to sanitize Martin Luther King. I don’t want to deodorize Dr. Martin Luther King. I don’t want to disinfect Dr. Martin Luther King, and we’re not gonna domesticate Dr. King!”
We misremember King as an unreal impotent, PC black Santa Claus politely asking if his friend Rosa can sit down when what makes him worth remembering is quite the opposite: He was a fiery, controversial, unresting activist arrested multiple times whose powerful, radical challenges to the war, economic inequality and of course segregation scared the living hell out of not only the average white conservative but the governmental powers that be. His commitment to non-violent methods and focus on love only made it harder for his enemies to undermine him and undermine his powerful criticisms in the eye of the public. While arguably most of his grand, vast, radical vision was shot to death with him in 1968, much of the hard progress that was made then and since then is thanks to him.
Although racial equality and non-racism in America is still far off, and although King’s unrelenting, vociferous attack on the Vietnam war may have garnered him the most dangerous enemies, this is after all a blog about poverty. The adamant, revolutionary critic of poverty demanding economic equality has been greatly forgotten not remembered. The man who was brought to tears upon seeing schoolchildren in Mississippi fed their meager lunch of a slice of apple and some crackers is generally not remembered.
“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization,” Dr. King said. “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”
Of course he was more revolutionary than one just asking for more charity and handouts: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring,” Dr. King said.
Unfortunately, Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” was unsuccessful after his assassination. Globally, 18,000 children die every single day from world hunger. In the United States, millions suffer in poverty including millions of children as well as millions of working poor. Like his dreams of a colorblind society and an end to American militarism, Dr. King’s dream of abolishing poverty has also gone unfulfilled and its creator misremembered.