The true radical legacy of Martin Luther King

This Monday the United States celebrates the 94th anniversary of the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Baptist pastor of the Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, Georgia, leader of black civil rights.

a democratic socialist

The movement led by MLK scored a major political victory with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, it seems appropriate to remember that during their fight the majority of the American people did not support it.

Some scholars of King’s life agree that his political ideas in the late 1960s could be framed in what is now known as democratic socialism. His ideas expressed a different analysis; he spoke not only of racial equality but of economic justice, of a deeper social transformation, along with his criticism of the military industry and the Vietnam War that he considered unnecessary.

Today in the United States there are many Republican politicians who celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, they do not support what he defended and are against what he fought for: the civil rights of blacks , the right to vote, public services for the poor, justice and economic equality, critical positions against war and the military industry, etc.

Today in an idealistic way many liberal Americans like to remember the MLK of the speech “I have a dream” and many politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, participated in protocol acts in his memory, because it is politically correct. But they ignore King’s uncomfortable thinking, the one who spoke out against wild capitalism, consumerism and the US military industry complex.

Most King historians and biographers intentionally focus his legacy on the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Washington DC march, but miss his “Beyond Vietnam” speech where it is abundantly clear that King 1963 and the 1967 King are different.

They do not know the anti-imperialist King

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his seminal speech condemning the Vietnam War at the Riverside church. Declaring that “my conscience leaves me no choice,” King described the deleterious effects of the war on both America’s poor and Vietnamese peasants and insisted that it was morally imperative that radical action be taken in the United States to stop the war. war by nonviolent means.

King’s antiwar sentiments first surfaced publicly in March 1965, when he declared that “millions of dollars can be spent every day to keep troops in South Vietnam and our country cannot protect the rights of blacks in Selma.” (King, March 9, 1965). King told reporters in Face the Nation that as a minister he had “a prophetic function” and as “someone greatly concerned with the need for peace in our world and the survival of mankind, I must continue to take a position on this matter” (King, August 29, 1965).

In a version of the “Transformed and Nonconforming” sermon delivered in January 1966 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King expressed his own opposition to the Vietnam War, describing American aggression as a violation of the 1954 Geneva Agreement that promised self-determination.

In 1967, MLK lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy and in 1965 that of Malcolm X. In his time, veterans returned from Vietnam and spoke of the horrors of what many considered a cruel, unfair and unnecessary war.

Radical discourse of social transformation

King’s speech evolved from the positions of a democratic socialist, to a more critical analysis, not only on the issue of racial equality. He even dared to denounce the imperial system of global reach. Many of us agree that this most radical message of deepest social transformation was the one that motivated the masterminds of his murder to silence his voice of prophetic denunciation.

It is pertinent to recall that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said in 1967 that the United States made “a peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges… that come from the immense profits of foreign investment.” Some of his friends were concerned about the evolution of civil rights discourse to be more critical of the war and told him so both publicly and privately, to which King responded by saying:

“Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”

Already in 1963 while imprisoned in Birmingham jail MLK showed concern not only because of the issue of racial equality in the United States but because of the issues of war, peace, and economic inequality around the world, as one paragraph of his famous letter shows:

“…because injustice committed anywhere constitutes a threat to justice everywhere. We are immersed in an indestructible network of mutual relationships, tied to the same destiny. Anything that affects one person directly affects everyone indirectly.”

editorial criticism

The response to the evolution of King’s speech was mostly negative. As he Washington Post As the New York Times they published editorials criticizing their stances. The Post in an editorial he noted that King’s speech had “diminished its usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people” because of a simplistic and misguided view of the situation (“A Tragedy,” April 6, 1967). Despite public criticism, King continued to attack the Vietnam War for both moral and economic reasons.

So it is appropriate that we remember and celebrate the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but we do not stay only in the vision of “I have a Dream” but rather Let’s highlight the King’s speech confronting savage capitalism, imperialism, and the US military-industrial complex. It is fitting to remind Democratic and Republican politicians that there is a deeper legacy of this great African-American leader.

The author with Berenice King, daughter of MLK, at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, during a course on MLK thought.

Ricardo Corzo MorenoRicardo Corzo Moreno

Ricardo Corzo Moreno is originally from Venezuela, he settled in Los Angeles in 1991. In 1999 he obtained a Bachelor of Theology from the Latin American Theological Seminary, in the city of La Puente, California. In 2002 he earned a Master of Divinity from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, now the Graduate School of Theology at the University of Reedlands in California. In 2004 he completed a Diploma in Ethics and Public Policy at the Divinity School of Harvard University in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2012 he studied for a Diploma in Latino Leadership and was a Cecil Scholar Scholar. L. Murray of the Department of Religion and Culture, College of Arts and Letters, University of Southern California.

In 2015 he returned from Los Angeles to his native Venezuela, and settled in the city of Caracas, where he served as Director General for North America of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry. He was a member of the official delegation to the 71st United Nations General Assembly, in New York City (September 2016).

Since 2018 he has been the Director of Institutional Relations of the All Things in Common Foundation and as an independent consultant on political, social, and religious issues, both national and international.

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