What Four Essays Published by The Nation Magazine Can Teach Those Seeking Change in America
Americans typically regard Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights leader who had a "dream." In the most basic terms, Martin Luther King Jr. believed in a "dream" that Americans could, through a large social movement for equality led by Negroes, rise up and live out the true meaning of a creed etched into the fabric of America: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." Yet, the "dream" did not end after August 28, 1963, when King delivered his most famous speech.
King had a vision of economic security for all Americans, not just cultural equality. He did not just want to shift the consciousness of white Americans enough so that brutal and unjust repression of Negroes would come to an end. He wanted all people to be protected from discrimination that might thwart long-term employment, to have food, clothing, education and stability essential for raising a family. He wanted jobs for all people that were not "substandard or evanescent." He urged massive nonviolent action in the years following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been won.
Today, however, Americans are under-educated or simply unaware of the full history of King. A surface understanding of King exists, an understanding non-threatening to ruling elites in Washington. That is why on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2009 a CNN poll found 69 percent of blacks thought King's vision had been fulfilled in the forty-five years since his "I Have a Dream Speech." That result, up from 34 percent in a similar poll taken in March 2008, reflected the widespread belief that the presidential election of Barack Obama "fulfilled" King's "dream."
Surface understandings of King are also why generals with the Pentagon are able to stand before the American people and propagandize King's history as a civil rights leader by lauding King and simultaneously whitewashing his opposition to American militarism, which he spoke out against during the Vietnam War, and claim King would have supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is why right wing pundits like Glenn Beck are able to hold "Restoring Honor" rallies to manipulate disturbed and frustrated Americans into believing they can learn something from King about how he believed in "states" rights," no taxation without representation and other talking points that have helped plant the seeds of proto-fascist movements in our nation's history.
During the civil rights era in the 1960s, The Nation magazine had King publish annual reports on the struggle to win civil rights and equality for Negroes. It is in these essays that we gain a true glimpse into the political heart and mind of King. Within these essays is a distinct political philosophy. It is a philosophy if applied to today would ensure that the election of Barack Obama was not simply a symbolic election that signified a majority of the white power structure could now accept having an African-American in the White House.
In 1963, King wrote "A Bold Design for a New South." This essay called upon President John F. Kennedy to understand that the South was split, "fissured into two parts." One was ready for "extensive change," the other "adamantly opposed to any but the most trivial alterations." King pressed the Administration to "place its weight behind the dynamic South, encouraging and facilitating its progressive development." He believed this was the "moment for government to drive a wedge into the splitting South" and spread it open so that civil rights could be won in the South.