At the risk of offending those who gallantly participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, I have very little use for the Martin Luther King, Jr. that will be commemorated during the annual holiday.
I am tired of corporate America feigning their appreciation for King's life work in order to entice consumers to purchase their products. Can someone explain to me why Netscape is offering MLK Jr. weekend trips from $199.00?
How many reenactments of marches and "freedom rides" will it require before we realize that those of us that participate in such events are unwitting co-conspirators in a movement committed to making King as non-threatening as possible to the general public?
I am weary of the repetitive showing of the "I Have a Dream" speech, which is great oratory, but in many ways innocuous.
If one dares to conduct a modicum of research, they may soon discover that contrary to the myth, the "I Have a Dream" speech may not be representative of King's best work of 1963, let alone his lifetime.
Earlier that year, King wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which was a radical, non conformist response to an open letter by eight white clergy that believed his methods were extreme and precipitated violence.
Without the benefit of a research assistant, a typewriter, or Google, King pinned his 7,000-word response on whatever he could get his hands on while under the strain incarceration. King's "Letter" is an epistle that many, myself included, believe is worthy of entry into the biblical canon.
In that letter King wrote:
"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.'
"Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.' And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.' And Abraham Lincoln: 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.' And Thomas Jefferson: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ...'
"So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"
Why can't we have the King that had the courage to stand against the war in Vietnam? The King that saw America's domestic injustices inextricably linked to its international policies.
If I must watch King's final speech (I've Been to the Mountaintop) please show me more than the final 60 seconds where he seems to come to terms with the inevitability of his own death.
I want to hear the part of the speech were he links his movement to the "wells of democracy that were dug deep by the Founding Fathers." I would like to also hear how he was calling for economic boycotts, urging African Americans to exhort their economic strength by supporting black owned businesses.
This may be a King that is harder to digest. In fact, I am not certain that we even have a quorum to take up a vote for this King.
The King that I want is not merely some moral mediator between the races that is covered in milquetoast, who sings "Kum Ba Yah" and "We Shall Overcome."
I don't want the idolized "dreamer" that remains frozen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, rather I want the flawed, beaten prophet that serves as the moral conscience of the nation.
I want the King who had the audacity to hold America to a standard higher than it was prepared to hold itself. I want the King that could aid America today in reestablishing its demagnetized moral compass.
If we had that King, we may not have a holiday in his honor, but we might be a better people.