Editorial Note: The following is meant to summarize our collective approach to the study of the life, media portrayal and assassination of Dr. King and is based largely on original research and primarily the primary source material left us by the man himself. Specifically, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? and his leadership retreat speeches to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Any attempt to consider the man’s life without specific reference (at least) to these documents should be by now seen as woefully insufficient if not fully misleading.
We have long passed any point of return when it comes to popular discussion of Dr. King. Claims of “commemoration” are better understood as spectacle and have, for the most part, elevated King to a level of symbol far more powerful in its condemnation of the actual man himself making him easily, second maybe, only maybe, to the historical Jesus Christ, the most known and least understood man in human history. But King must never be remembered. And he almost never is. King must never be remembered because, to borrow a point made once of Malcolm X by Dhoruba bin-Wahad, should King have survived April 1968 he would certainly have spent a bulk of his life from then to now as a political prisoner, and we don’t remember them at all.
We don’t remember political prisoners because they remind of a never-ended war for liberation and, most specifically, they remind of a set of ideas and politics which must themselves never be considered. King did too. He didn’t want museums or monuments which he understood to be as hollow as the gestures represented in buildings and by streets created to carry his name but not his ideas.
King must not be remembered because ideas which tend toward revolution, socialist redistribution of wealth, an end to poverty as even a possibility, an end to war, support for labor rights and liberation struggles being suppressed all around the world by the U.S. and its ignoble Western alliances, and a willingness to engage with respect and inclusiveness those to his political Left, are not consistent with pop cultural YouTube beefs among African people (mostly men) with oddly Eurocentric political standards or commercial pop cultural films made about him by public relations experts who omit from those films the very Left-Of-King folks he was himself fond of.
Thankfully, there are those, many of whom we have been happy over the years to work with, like the late John Judge whose unparalleled expertise as a historian of U.S. politics and assassinations has helped restore some of the lost context of King’s genuine radicalism and threat to power. King, in a trajectory that perfectly mirrored his own increasingly radicalizing politics, was hounded by the commercial press, demonized by the state as a “threat to national security,” targeted by the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), assassinated and has since been re-imaged as someone and something that is simply inconsistent with any known evidence about his life and politics. But this must not be remembered.
This, of course, is done to impact the present. King must not be remembered, indeed. But this is not merely about historical memory. Not remembering King is a necessary and imposed political act, supported by our current moment of disorganization, intense (and misunderstood) propaganda and a now Donald Trump-inspired-false-consciousness-post-orgasmic-after-glow about who or what Barack Obama represented/s as a claimed heir to King’s struggle. Not remembering King is about managing those who would now think to organize themselves in a radical, militant and King-ian way to, as he was attempting, permanently organize a worsening inequality out of existence.
So we must continue to absolutely not remember Dr. King.
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In a King-ian Way
“We are saying that something is wrong….with capitalism….There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism”.–Speech to his staff, 1966.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”.–Sermon delivered at Riverside Church in New York,April 14, 1967.
“If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell”.–Speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in support of the Memphis Sanitation workers strike on March 18, 1968.
Right on brother Rose!
Why wouldn’t Dr King have become enmeshed in the trappings of the budding world of the non-profits or the academy? Or pioneered a Nelson Mandela-esque trajectory before Mandela?
Both are excellent and fair questions. I have no prediction one way or the other only that, as i said here, there is no evidence that he would make those choices given the ones was know for sure he was making at the end of his life and for which he was assassinated. Or, id say he would have made those shifts, as did Mandela, while a political prisoner.