On this half-century anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King's assassination, I figured that I would defer to Dr Cornel West, who was featured in a remarkable segment on the Brian Lehrer Show. I like Cornel West, he's an important voice in the public discourse, and even as a secular person I occasionally enjoy the preacher's cadence he employs.
Dr West has the audacity to address Dr King's latter-day despair, verging on nihilism at times. It's a refreshing antidote to the overly sanitized version of King's life, calling attention to the pushback King received from the American political mainstream, even from the liberal establishment of the time. King was attacked for his opposition to the Vietnam War, he was criticized for his skepticism regarding a social system which was hopelessly corrupt. Dr West cites Harry Belafonte quoting King's despair: "Am I integrating into a burning house?"
Dr King decried societal failures concerning war, poverty, materialism, and racism- Dr West notes that we are still not doing well in these areas. King was a radical, an anti-imperialist. West states, "Martin King was the real thing- he was not a semblance, he was not a simulacra of the real thing." He also calls out those who claim to honor King, but don't challenge empire, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia. West is describing intersectionality, an interlocking approach to resistance to power, combining feminism, economic justice, LGBTQ rights. King was killed when he was in Memphis supporting a labor action. A year before his death, he had come out against the War in Vietnam, exacerbating rumors that he was a Communist.
King was perceived as a dangerous radical when he was murdered at the age of thirty-nine. He was certainly not hailed as the hero that he is largely portrayed as now, and he most certainly wasn't the 'safe', sanitized figure that the media wants to replace him with, burying the moral titan whose challenges to the racist, patriarchal, capitalist, imperialist status quo are as cogent now as ever.