ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
King evolved into a critique of the economic
as well as racial inequalities in American capitalism.
Books by Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Commemoration of the 1963
March on Washington
By Lil Joe
In itself the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington and memories of Martin Luther King Jr. is galvanizing, appropriate and it is quite good to want to rekindle the spirit of the sixties.” But what spirit? The spirit of reformist preachers, that resulted in making the leaders of the 60s becoming Democratic Party politicians and millionaires? These are the same politicians at the commemoration rally for whom rekindling the spirit of the 60s means no more than voter registration for next years presidential election. The Democratic Party’s Negroes are showing their usefulness by using this commemoration to rally Blacks to vote for the Democrats in next year’s election.
Or the spirit of the poor and oppressed Black workers and unemployed, who were in the streets fighting racism, police brutality and poverty. that was the true, phenomenology of the spirit of the revolutionary 60s. These were the people with whom King stood, was educated by, and whose spirit of protest he came to personify. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Movement he represented, and has in retrospect come to personify, was not a Jesse Jackson/Andrew Young/ Mfume type hustler of Blacks for the Democratic Party, but stood in opposition to that Party — its war in Vietnam for example.
It was against a Democratic Party dominated government that King was organizing the poor peoples March on Washington. Compared to the poor peoples campaign against poverty, that King was organizing in 1968 when he was assassinated, the 1963 March would have been, by comparison, nothing more than the picnic that Malcolm X exposed in “Message to the Grass Roots” in 1964.
The movement advanced and consequently King evolved over time. In other words, King was the product of the Movement, which he came to represent. As the Civil Rights Movement came in collisions with its original narrow focus ending legalized racial segregation within capitalism, and restriction to domestic ‘moral’ issues King had to evolve or by standing still become reactionary. King evolved into a critique of the economic as well as racial inequalities in American capitalism. Recognizing the extremes of wealth and poverty in this country inevitably led him to recognize this in the world itself, the impoverished masses of the 3rd world’s people.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
Both King and Malcolm X participating in the praxis engendered in the Struggle against racism and came to realize that the capitalist system is itself the external reality internalized by members of this society, with its systemic divisions of society between the very rich with government access, and the very poor with none. Racism cannot be separated from capitalism because monopoly ownership of the productive forces by a wealthy minority lie at the basis of the brutality of class exploitation, racial oppression and political repression both in this country (the U.S.) and the world.
Like Malcolm X, who upon his break with the Americanized version of racial “Islam,” came to see a global struggle between the worlds people of color and the European and American “White Man,” King came to identify with the worlds oppressed people. King’s perception was more sophisticated, however. Whereas Malcolm saw it as a struggle of the worlds people of color against the White Man, particularly the American “White Man,” King on the contrary understood what he saw in class terms, siding with “the shirtless and bootless” people of the 3rd World.
This is important because it also is consistent with King’s opposition to U.S. mechanized warfare in Vietnam — which resulted in 3,000,000 Vietnamese killed, millions missing and millions maimed for life. King wanted to travel to Vietnam, and as a human shield stand in the rice patties with the shirtless bootless Vietnamese peasants.
Taking a stand with the impoverished of the 3rd world, King also extended his struggle against racial oppression of Blacks in this country into a struggle of All America’s Poor, a War on Poverty. King said America’s arms spending to dominate the world was at the expense of the American poor. “Although Malcolm X understood this in economic reality, saying, “the capitalists are bloodsuckers; show me a capitalist and I’ll show you a bloodsucker,” it was King understood the class dynamics and organized for class resistance.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. is suppressed by the Democratic Party’s spectacle in Washington, DC last week, ostensibly ‘commemorating’ the 1963 March on Washington and Kings “Speech.” When last week on C-SPAN I watched the Democratic Party hacks and presidential candidates praising of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was reminded of something Lenin said in The State and Revolution:
During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their teachings with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to surround their names with a certain halo for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time emasculating the essence of the revolutionary teaching, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. presented to the public this week and last, ostensibly commemorating the 1963 March on Washington is not the warrior who confronted the government in opposition to war and poverty but the Baptist preacher dreaming about a better America where folk of various ethnic groups will get along.
They did not give speeches about the King that came to realize that it is not Blacks, Whites, Jews, and Gentiles per se who can by getting along create a paradise, but that the working poor must come together without ethnic and religion division to March on Washington as a unified class challenging the economic order.
The Reverend King of the 1963 March on Washington was the Negro preacher the Democratic Party loved, or rather was relatively comfortable with. In this connection young folk ought to read Malcolm X’s critique of the March on Washington in his “Message to the Grassroots.”
In the end, toward the end of their lives both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X had begun to speak on the economic basis for poverty and oppression in America. The King’s last project was organizing a Poor People’s Campaign, to march on Washington. King was organizing a cadre of activists from the poorest of the poor, the Appalachian minors to the Detroit unemployed autoworkers to the farm workers in the fields of California.
Both King’s opposition to the War in Vietnam and his focus on the economy of poverty put him out of favor with the government. In the context of the 60s King was galvanizing the poor and oppressed indicating that oppression could not end until poverty has ended.
Malcolm X, while advocating revolution in speeches was promoting Black capitalism in practice. Both Malcolm and Martin were regarded as dangerous. But King was also organizing the poor and participating in workers strikes. The organized labor movement had participated in the Civil Rights movement and the 1963 march on Washington to change the economy.
King was a dangerous Negro, and the government sent its agents out to discredit, or perhaps even kill him. The Government at the time was a Democratic President backed by Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. The same party politicians who last week had the nerve to stage a spectacle ostensibly in “commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington.” This was the Party in power when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated! The theme of that rally was not to take up where King left off, organizing poor people that is the working-class into an independent political force, but to “register Blacks and poor to vote in next years presidential election” — it was a Democratic Party hootenanny!
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton are in retrospect personifications of the Black protest spirit of the 1950s to the mid-60s. Together with them in politics in the arts were Dick Gregory; Charlie Mingus, Nina Simone, Oscar Brown Jr., Archie Shepp, Marvin Gay and of course John Coltrane and Pharaoh Saunders.
To get a feel of this Spirit I suggest to young people that they check out:
Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail and Where Do We Go from Here? and Coltrane’s “Africa,” “Alabama,” “Transitions,” Kulu Se Mama and “Selflessness” (which were made in LA in 1965 — the year of the “Watts Rebellion”), “Crescent” and “Peace on Earth” on the CD “Concert in Japan,” “Reverend King” and Trane’s final statement: “Expression.”
Malcolm X “Message to the Grass Roots” and “The Ballot or the Bullet”.
Archie Shepp’s CDs “Fire Music,” “Philly Jo Jones,” “Attica Blues”.
Charlie Mingus “Fables Of Faubus,” The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady
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Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Four Women,” and “Pirate Jenny“
Oscar Brown Jr.’s “40 Acres and a Mule”
Miles Davis: “Jack Johnson”
War: “The World Is A Ghetto”
O-Jays: “Don’t Let Money Rule You”
Gil Scot-Heron: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
The Last Poets: “Ho Chi Minh” and “When the Revolution Comes”
Marvin Gay’s CD “What’s Going On?”
Pharaoh Sanders CDs “Tauhid” and “The Karma”
Earth, Wind and Fire: “Head to the Sky”
The struggle continues.
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updated 15 2011