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In a wonderful irony of America’s continuing struggle with and for racial justice, President Obama’s second inauguration is on the same weekend as our Dr. King Holiday, the man who led the nonviolent revolution that led to voting rights for African-Americans.

Every year starting about this time of January we are told over and over by Corporate America and the corporate media of Dr. King’s commitment to love and service, leaving out his commitment to militant but nonviolent struggle for racial justice AND economic justice AND a fundamental change in the way America works.

It is up to each and all of us to keep alive the memory of the real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – the Dr. King of Memphis, of Birmingham, of Albany and a life of real struggle who led thousands of Americans into the streets and moved the hearts and souls of millions of Americans not by just being a “drum major” but by being a nonviolent warrior chief committed to racial justice and voting rights, and also committed to ending poverty and for trade unionism and for peace.

We must remember why Dr. King was in Memphis when he was assasinated. He first went to Memphis from Mississippi with my close now departed friend Rev. Orange to build the Poor People’s Movement. Dr. King’s Dream in 1968 was to build a national multi-racial movement against poverty, for good jobs and economic justice.

That commitment led Dr. King to the AFSCME sanitation strike led by T. O. Jones and on the staff side, William Lucy. Dr. King was not unfamiliar with union struggles. He was a friend of the AFL-CIO. One of his mentors was A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. One of his chief supporters and benefactors was UAW President Walter Reuther.

That struggle in Memphis, the daily marches, the rallies, the rotting garbage, the solidarity of the Memphis AFL-CIO and other unions, the Movement swirl in the city of cotton and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Rising Up of Black Memphians, the racist fear of many white Memphians led directly to the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968.

Dr. King was not assassinated because he was a drum major, but because he was a nonviolent revolutionary committed to love, and also committed to justice. The commitment to justice leads directly to confrontation and struggle.

More about Dr. King through this week.

Lest we get too comfortable thinking of how far America has come since 1968, Colin Powell on Sunday called out the fundamental racism of the Republican Party on Sunday, saying, “There is a dark vein of intolerance” in the Republican Party where too many look down on minorities and the other 47%.

And there is actually MORE income and wealth inequality today than there was in 1968.

Sisters and brothers, let us not grow weary in well doing.

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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.
Get the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are by clicking here!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Of Course: (3+ / 0-)
    an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 06:58:54 AM PST

  •  Nice Diary. Wonder what he would say about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw, Cassandra Waites

    the new slavery. Make laws that affect mostly black men and then push them into for profit prisons where they  work for peanuts.  Or shooting a black teenager because he was where you thought he shouldn't be or because he wouldn't turn down his music.... We still have a fight going on here and need men like MLK. Are the bedrock racist heart of the republican party (especially int he south who seem to be continually trying to refight the civil war)ever going to recognize the humanity of all humans?

    Fear is the Mind Killer...

    by boophus on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 07:01:58 AM PST

  •  Remaining awake through a great revolution (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassandra Waites, Nowhere Man

    One of King's most arresting speeches was given at the Cathedral in Washington, DC on Mar 31, 1968, a mere month before he was murdered. He used the metaphor of Rip Van Winkle as a call to awaken people to the profound events in the world that we must recognize and confront with courage. As the richest nation on earth, he proclaimed, we have the tools to eradicate poverty. But will we use these tools to bring economic equity to all or will we continue to make the poor invisible by squandering our wealth on war.

    And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.
    His call for action is for all of us to demand economic equality through direct action.
    We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.

    We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

    Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

    I highly recommend you read the speech in its entirety:
  •  I have a somewhat different take on it (0+ / 0-)

    While no one can say exactly what was the murderer's motivation, I think it's fair to say that Dr. King was murdered because he was effective. And I also think he was effective because of his nonviolent tactics. But it wasn't the nonviolence per se that brought about his murder.

    As a thought experiment, imagine that Dr. King had not advocated nonviolence: Imagine, for example, that he had advocated for violence in self-defense, even if only in self-defense. And imagine that this advocacy of self-defense did not make him any less effective as a leader. Do you believe that he would have lived longer? While this is entirely speculation, I think that history suggests otherwise.

    Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

    by Nowhere Man on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 09:29:14 AM PST

  •  Thank you for these wonderful, thoughtful comments (0+ / 0-)

    The truth is that none of us will ever for sure know why Dr. King was assassinated, but his death and Bobby Kennedy's in the same six month period make us wonder.

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