Wages and War - The Dr. King speeches you won't hear today

Chip Shields

Media critics Jeff Cohen and Norman Soloman stated it best in their April 4, 2007 article at Common Dreams. Every year on April 4, Americans commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death.

The remarkable thing about these reviews of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV. Why?

It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.

Speeches like this one to the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees Local 1199 have been mostly ignored by the corporate media. That union membership, which just endorsed Sen. Obama incidently, has split affiliation over the years with both SEIU and AFSCME. More after the jump.

Cohen and Soloman continue:

In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.

But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” – including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.

“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 – a year to the day before he was murdered – King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (Full text here at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2564.htm)

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”

You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, (here it is)

but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 – and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington – engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be – until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”

King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”

How familiar that sounds today, nearly 40 years after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

In 2007, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and most in Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. They fund foreign wars with “alacrity and generosity,” while being miserly in dispensing funds for education and healthcare and environmental cleanup.

And those priorities are largely unquestioned by mainstream media. No surprise that they tell us so little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life.

Jeff Cohen http://jeffcohen.org/ is the author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” Norman Solomon www.normansolomon.com is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” now out in paperback.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    There was an author on the Today show this morning talking about Dr. King Jr. and he said that Obama represents the MLK before 1965 and Obama's former pastor the last three years. The sermon he'd been planning to give shortly after that tragic day was about how our country might be headed to hell.

    What really struck me was his son's op-ed on Wednesday about a cabinet-level position on poverty. He's called on all three presidential candidates to create such a position within their first 100 days in office. Poverty, he pointed out, hasn't changed since his father was marching in the streets and includes 12 million kids. And with the numbers the feds use to define poverty, there are many more who are living in poverty and not counted.

    It was a great op-ed. I wrote about it over at www.blogfororegon.com earlier this morning.

  • (Show?)

    When I lived and worked in L.A. prior to coming back to Portland, I was with a P.R. firm that worked closely with the SEIU and other local groups on issues of poverty.

    One of the groups we partnered with was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. They are currently running a modern update to the historic Poor People's Campaign. Here's the link.

    Also, I worked closely with the local SEIU long-term care union on a seminal project: the Long-Term Care Housing Corporation. This program worked to provide affordable housing options for long-term care workers who were stuck in the cycle of poverty.

    Dr. King's legacy endures. But we all need to work at it...

  • ABA (unverified)
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    This isn't just a national issue.

    Right here in Portland we have leadership and his followers who have forgotten about those in poverty. A candidate for mayor cares more about a splurge of a bridge in NW Portland/The Pearl than the kids who live in poverty and walk the unsafe streets in the Cully Neighborhood.

    Where is the outrage?! Fix Cully first!

  • LT (unverified)
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    For those of you not old enough to remember, there was also a moment 40 years ago which should not be forgotten.

    Robert F. Kennedy (who many of us still think of as Bobby) knew something about the experience of having a loved one assasinated --it was only five years since his brother JFK had been killed.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89365887

    tells the story.

    RFK spoke to an audience in what some considered 'a bad part of town' and discovered as he walked to the podium that they had not heard that MLK had been killed. So he broke the news to the audience. Even people who were not supporting him for President (like my friends and I who were Eugene McCarthy supporters) saw that as a moment of extreme political grace and courage.

    So when someone remarks that some action shows political courage, please remember that there are those of us old enough to remember 40 years ago, and we have our own yardstick. The speech RFK gave where he had to break the news MLK was dead (yes, back in those days, there was not instant communication as there is now) showed political courage.

    Going to a debate / joint appearance where candidates are asked (of a controversial ballot measure like capital punishment) "This has strong support according to the polls, where do you stand on it?" and answering, "I believe it is wrong, you can vote me out of office and I will still believe it is wrong!" shows political courage.

    Lots of things that have happened in this election year don't quite meet that standard.

    And yes, I do recall the change in Dr. King, and saying he was changing from Obama to Rev. Wright shows the change that did begin to seep through even to white kids going to predominantly white colleges.

  • (Show?)

    Here's a nice article about that bridge, for your information:

    http://www.bta4bikes.org/btablog/2008/04/03/potter-votes-no/

    According to the piece, the funds for the bridge come from sources aside, "most of which wouldn’t be available for "sidewalks for children" elsewhere in Portland."

    Back to the topic at-hand, please.

  • LT (unverified)
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    This article in today's Oregonian is a fitting tribute, and the sort of thing that MLK and RFK would have admired.

    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/120728131393010.xml&coll=7

    I would submit to you that when people who are not activist Democrats do such things, THAT is the beginning of change.

  • ABA (unverified)
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    Ben,

    About staying on topic--as we remember we should also remember to act. The inequities still go on, and we have a responsibility to the memory of Dr. King to continue the fight.

    About the city funding plan for the bridge, you and the BTA are only partly correct. The reality is it is a shell game that is being manipulated. Remember, as Dr. King said, "The resources are here in America, the question is whether the will is."

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    re: "Time magazine called it 'demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.' The Washington Post patronized that 'King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.'"

    Now compare that to this: "We have Ralph to thank for the Iraq War and the mortgage of America's future." "His last twenty years are now eclipsing the good stuff that I think he once did." "I will never forgive Ralph Nader for his selfishness and egotism." (All on BO.)

    Let's be honest. If MLK were running today on the platform suggested by his "Beyond Viet Nam" speech, most of the posters to BO would be saying the same thing about him that they're now saying about Ralph. And they would be threatening to vote for McCain if he were nominated.

  • Unit (unverified)
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    ABA, your comment is ironic on two levels.

    First, that the Cully project is underway.

    Second, that the project will, like any improvement project, almost certainly result in gentrification of the neighborhood.

    I don't disagree with your larger point, but I think this is a poor example.

  • MCT (unverified)
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    Chip...thank you so much for bringing forth this issue of poverty in our 'great nation'. I personally feel it is the at the core of much of what ails us, and holds us back from solving the myriad of problems that stem from people simply not making enough to make ends meet.

    Capitalism can be a great motivator and wealth builder in a democratic society. But when the driving goal of corporations is to line the share holders' portfolios with profit, at the expense of American workers and by manipulation of law through lobbies, ultimately, when all the dominoes fall all America loses.

    Imagine if, 40 years ago, this cause had not been dampened and then forgotten. I contend that any worker who labors away year after year, paying taxes and obeying the laws of the land, should never have to worry about whether he or she can provide shelter, food, transportation, clothing and education for themselves or their families.

    And a sidebar: I have recently been in an online converstaion with real estate investors in Australia and New Zealand. They tell me an average wage for a semi-skilled worker, say an office worker or service sector job, is $4000-5000 per mo. per worker, lining up comfortably with apartments that cost around $1,000 to $1,200 per mo. or 3 bedroom/2 bath brick homes on large lots to buy at around $200,000. The Aus. dollar is worth about $1.09 USD. And with two people working, a family can thrive and save as well. Homeowners' equity is protected by law there. And health care and other full-coverage social services are provided by government. It is probably relevant that they also have limits and stringent conditions regarding immigration.

    Our current financial crisis in the U.S. would never have happened, at least not at this level, if some simple protections and living wages were given to ordinary citizens.

  • (Show?)

    King also said in regards to Vietnam that, "[w]e are criminals in that war ... We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world ... But God has a way of even putting nations in their place."

    That's a side of Dr. King that we rarely see today, and certainly don't learn about in public schools while studying the civil rights movement. There was an interesting piece on NPR yesterday featuring Michael Eric Dyson and his new book on Dr. King's death.

  • (Show?)

    This thread has made my day. My earliest memory on this planet is the day Martin Luther King was killed. I had no idea at that time just how important that moment was for all of us and I did not know who MLK was. All I knew was my mother, father and everyone I knew at that point was sad.

    I also learned about fear because we were just 90 miles south of Memphis in New Albany, Mississippi and by the time my folks had heard of his death, the Klan was already trolling the roads. I picked up the sadness and the fear and I carry that memory with me to this day.

    What is good about today? Post like these, people like Chip and others that are talking about the important messages MLK left behind for all of us to learn from and embrace. What today means is I am realizing the dream that Dr. King had for all of us. This world is better because of him and everyone that has not allowed what he really stood for to fade from memory.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    I guess all kinds of people want to forget all kinds of things King stood for. After all, progressives have for all these years stood for the opposite of this one: "Judge one not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character". Even worse than ignoring it, they claim they're all for it while working towards the opposite (very Orwellian).

    Bob Tiernan

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    MCT:

    Capitalism can be a great motivator and wealth builder in a democratic society. But when the driving goal of corporations is to line the share holders' portfolios with profit, at the expense of American workers and by manipulation of law through lobbies, ultimately, when all the dominoes fall all America loses

    Bob T:

    What you're describing is the use of government power to obtain what can't be obtained in an open market. Note that progressives are very hesitant to criticize government power's existence because they want to use it as well. So "capitalists" (the real ones and the fake ones) get demonized, but politicians don't.

    Explain to me again why the meat packing industry (the fat ones) opposed regulations (oh wait! They wanted the regulations! I forgot! about that - but did you know that already?).

    Explain to me again why the railroad barons opposed regulations tooth and nail. (oh wait! They wanted those regulations! I forgot about that, too. But did you ever know that already?)

    Why is it when you find out some facts about our capitalist history, you repeat the convenient legends and myths?

    Bob Tiernan

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    "Judge one not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character".

    Sorry, Bob Tiernan, you've been reading too much right wing revisionist history. Martin Luter King supported affirmative action:

    "King supported affirmative action-type programs because he never confused the dream with American reality. As he put it, "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro" to compete on a just and equal basis (quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen Oates)."

    from The Right Has a Dream

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Tom Civiletti:

    Sorry, Bob Tiernan, you've been reading too much right wing revisionist history. Martin Luter King supported affirmative action:

    "King supported affirmative action-type programs because he never confused the dream with American reality. As he put it, 'A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro' to compete on a just and equal basis (quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen Oates)."

    Bob T:

    Why did you have to quote someone else quoting King?

    Anyway, so you're saying that the famous quote of King is bullshit that means nothing?

    Bob Tiernan

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bob Tiernan,

    I am suggesting that understanding truth in the real world requires more nuance than is usually found in the reasoning of those holding a libertarian viewpoint.

    Perhaps King felt that public discussion of affirmative action was premature when trying to go to school or use public accommodations was enough risk mob violence and police brutality.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Tom Civiletti:

    I am suggesting that understanding truth in the real world requires more nuance than is usually found in the reasoning of those holding a libertarian viewpoint.

    Bob T:

    Please don't label me.

    Tom Civiletti:

    Perhaps King felt that public discussion of affirmative action was premature when trying to go to school or use public accommodations was enough risk mob violence and police brutality.

    Bob T:

    "Perhaps", but perhaps not. He was sticking his neck out, and he knew it, so I find it hard to accept that he was afraid to mention some specifics like "affirmative action".

    Anyway, in looking at the Oates statement again, I see that somehow King's request of government to do "something special for the Negro" is interpreted as being support for affirmative action programs, or affirmative action-type programs. I think that's a stretch. If you really believe that, then please come out and say that you oppose judging individuals by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

    You know, I would also like to point out that prior to the introduction of the Jim Crow laws we are all familiar with, in the post Civil War period blacks were making quite a bit of progress thanks to a combination of being free and operating in a far more free market economy than we have today, and King missed that era. It was squashed when (and I'm focusing on the South here, which was the real test) the rednecks realized that there was a future that they did not like and could not control, so they started to "manage" it, as in managing the economy etc. Sound familiar?

    Jim Crow laws were anti-free enterprise laws, and I hope you realize that. Interestingly, Plessy v. Ferguson dealt with the market haters who could not stand the fact that big bad corporations (in this case, the railroads) cared only about the color green, and would sell a first-class ticket to any individual who had the proper amount of money to purchase one, thus "ignoring" regional "concerns". Well that was just too bad, wasn't it? But the market haters and control freaks had enough by then. Even many whites had to be controlled, too, or else there's be no need for the control freaks to ban restaurant and hotel owners (property owners) from servicing whomever they wanted to serve.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bob,

    You may call yourself libertarian or not, but what I have read from you on BlueOregon in in letters to newspapers leads me to conclude that your viewpoint in libertarian. You are free to reject that, as I am free to conclude it.

    Here is something King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait:

    “no amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of the labor of one human being by another. . . . The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law. . . . I am proposing, therefore, that, just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial.”

    That sounds like support for affirmative action to me.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Tom Civilleti:

    You may call yourself libertarian or not, but what I have read from you on BlueOregon in in letters to newspapers leads me to conclude that your viewpoint in libertarian. You are free to reject that, as I am free to conclude it.

    Bob T:

    Sure, I don't mind you concluding it at all. What I do notice is that the term is often used as a broad pejorative to label an entire point of view as being wrong. But I post with my own point of view so you should be able to deal with my views without labeling them.

    Tom Civiletti:

    Here is something King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait:

    “no amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of the labor of one human being by another. . . . The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law. . . . I am proposing, therefore, that, just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial.”

    That sounds like support for affirmative action to me.

    Bob T:

    Well sure--if you interpret it very inventively. Even then, it would be weak. What I do find interesting is that you really don't believe in judging a person by the content of his character but instead by the color of his skin, and you won't admit it. It's therefore a mere slogan to you. Sounds great--"but shhhh, we don't really mean it. In fact, we hate the whole idea".

    Very revealing thread, Tom. I won't label this point of view of yours on this issue, but I do know that you're far from alone. I agree with Justice Roberts who opined that the best way to stop judging people by the color of their skin is to stop doing it, period. When will this favorite program of yours end, by the way?

    <h2>Bob Tiernan</h2>

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