[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):
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 disappearing.
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 impressions:
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