[News] America's Martin & Martin's America by Mumia Abu-Jamal
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 18 16:27:38 EST 2008
America's Martin & Martin's America
[col. writ. 1/11/08] (c) '08 Mumia Abu-Jamal
As millions of people ready themselves for a (hopefully) paid
holiday in remembrance of assassinated civil rights leader, Rev. Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., we are forced to come to grips with who the
man was, rather than who he has been projected to be.
In the words of noted historian (and once King's close
confidant) Vincent Harding, America has largely chosen the path of
amnesia rather than true remembrance of the man. Prof. Harding wrote,
in his 1998 book, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (Orbis Books):
It appears as if the price for the first
nationalist holiday honoring a black man is
the development of a massive case of national
amnesia concerning who that
black man really was. At both personal and
collective levels, of course, it is often
the case that amnesia is not ultimately harmful
to the patient. However, in this case
it is very dangerous, for the things we have
chosen to forget about King (and about
ourselves) constitute some of the most hopeful
possibilities and resources for our
magnificent and very needy nation. Indeed, I
would suggest that we Americans have
chosen amnesia rather than continue King's
painful, uncharted, and often
disruptive struggle toward a more perfect
union. I would also suggest that those
of us who are historians and citizens have a
special responsibility to challenge the
loss of memory, in ourselves and others, to
allow our skills in probing the past to
become resources for healing and for hope. In
other words, [if] Martin King cannot
challenge those who make him a harmless black
icon, then we surely can raise
such a challenge -- assuming that we are still
What distinguishes the life and work of King towards his latter
days, was his dedication to Black poor folks, a group that seems to
be all but forgotten in the years since his passing.
While today's America seems to be on the brink of electing a
Black person (or at least possibly nominating one), the plight of the
Black poor could hardly be more perilous.
For it is on them that the twin weights of poverty and state
repression are dropped, with little relief from a civil rights
leadership which occasionally seems overwhelmed with the threats and
conflicts facing those of better means and resources.
Indeed, much of that leadership is, as was Dr. King himself,
quite highly educated, and seeking entree into the highest levels of
state and corporate power; levels virtually impenetrable to millions
of Black poor folks.
For them is reserved: the worst of public education the worst
housing; brutal treatment by cops; ignored by political leaders (at
least until election time rolls around), highest rates of
joblessness; the highest incarceration rates -- we know this list can
go on and on.
King Day may be remembered, but the man behind the name is fast
It is virtually forgotten that he sacrificed his life on behalf
of striking garbage men, Black workers who wanted a decent wage to be
sure, but also wanted simple, human dignity.
In 1967, one year before his assassination, a perceptive
journalist, the late David Halberstam wrote, in Harper's magazine his
King has decided to represent the ghettos, he
will work in them and speak for them.
But their voice is harsh and alienated. If
King is to speak for them truly, then his voice must
reflect theirs; it, too, must be
alienated, and it is likely to be increasingly at odds with
American society. [Harding, 62]
America establishes a holiday, and promptly forgets what he lived for.
--(c) '08 maj
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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