Just A Thought...Do We Really Appreciate the Genius of Dr. King?
by Rick Adams
FOR more than a decade we have celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday. However it seems to me that for many of us it is just another day off from work, one more day to sleep in, another chance at the mall for bargain shopping.
THE contributions of Dr. King deserve serious, in depth study by all of us, young and not so young. For it was the articulation of his religious, philosophical, and human rights ideology that embodied a brilliant synthesis of the lessons of struggle of Africans in these United States.
THERE are four major innovations that Dr. King utilized to hasten the destruction of Jim Crow/Apartheid. Those innovations were; 1) the adaptation of Christian doctrine to compel believers to oppose evil in the world, 2) the mobilization of the Black church as a southern and later national organizational base, 3) the crystallization of a strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience, 3) the employment of a successful methodology of mobilizing whole communities to conduct protracted campaigns of struggle, and 4) the development of a coherent analysis of the defects of this society coupled with a vision that illustrated the unity of all human rights issues.
IT was Dr. king's advocacy of a social gospel that turned, what Marx termed the "opiate of the masses" into a popular vehicle for mass struggle. His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" took to task those preachers of the gospel who were silent on the issues of racism, and discrimination. He challenged the notion that one could be a "real" Christian and not actively oppose the evil of the secular world. The use of the prevailing religious doctrine of the USA provided a powerful propaganda weapon that simultaneously motivated the oppressed to take action and convicted the oppressors to change.
THE Black church has always had progressive congregations led by militant preachers who were "race men". Richard Allen, Henry Highland Garnet, Morris Brown, Louis Woodson, and both Adam Clayton Powells come to mind. However it was Dr. King and his followers who first regionalized, in the south, and later nationalized the organizational capacity of the Black Church. It was this structure that provided the generals and foot soldiers of the struggle, the headquarters, training centers, supply bases, and fortresses from which campaigns were launched. The church was the only pervasive institution that Black people controlled. The church also proved to be a lucrative source of financial support and an unparalleled communications system. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and similar organizations were the indispensable backbone of the movement.
FEW people realize how much planning went into a nonviolent campaign. Organizers of the Birmingham Campaign spent months researching the power structure, gathering support from local Black leaders, identifying goals and targets, and training non violent soldiers. The campaigns were planned in great detail, just like a classic military operation. As crucial as the moral dimension was, the fact of being right, the efforts of the movement would not have been successful without the development of a viable method of engaging in struggle. The Black uprising would not have been successful without the leadership learning the fine art of negotiations, political strategy, the use of spies and propaganda. The Kingian tactic of bringing an entire city to the point of crisis, "creative tension" he called it, was supported by comprehensive planning and adept execution of political maneuvers. The ability to sustain a struggle, involving the attention and energies of a whole community for months, was an immensely difficult undertaking that was indeed a sweet science.
DR. King advanced an analysis of the social/political/economic shortcomings of the United States of America. He clearly understood that the fascist undemocratic practice of Jim Crow/Apartheid in the south was a threat to the entire democracy. He recognized that the suppression of workers rights, the exclusion of Black workers from meaningful employment, and widespread poverty amidst great wealth made the American dream a nightmare that would consume us all. He recognized that a country that made a God out of material gratification and fed a military that propped up dictatorships around the world was evidence of moral decay at the very soul of the nation. Dr. King articulated a social, economic and political analysis of this country that is still relevant 31 years after his death.
TODAY, people marvel at the dexterity by which the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. "ties it all together" when he links; poverty in the urban ghettos with that of Appalachia, the murders of youthful gang bangers with those of youth killed in political conflict in Africa, or the lack of jobs with public allocations of tax dollars to fuel the military industrial complex. Well, he learned his lessons well at the knee of Dr. King. It was Dr. King who first brought a seamless domestic and international worldview to the attention of the country and the world. Most importantly he fashioned a political ideology, grounded in moral principles, that the masses could embrace and substantially voice them selves!
NO, Dr. King did not accomplish these things by himself. There were hundreds of leaders, thousands of organizers, tens of thousands of soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of supporters who made the difference. However it was Dr. King who did "tie it all together"; who provided credible leadership, the vision. He articulated the dream, and more importantly he assembled the team of the most talented and committed organizers and leaders the world has ever seen. I believe we need to study what was done and act accordingly today. Anyway it's JUST A THOUGHT…