The Complicated Legacy of Dr. King

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About Tim Brown

TB is a single 30 something living in Atlanta, GA. He is a former collegiate athlete and now
works in academia. Mentor, brother, and friend are all titles in his list of accomplishments.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Goodness is if we like it afterwards. If we don’t like it, it’s not good.

  2. I don’t think comparing Ray Lewis to MLK is a very apt analogy in any way, shape or form. However, I do think a discussion of how effective MLK’s nonviolent ideology would have been without the threat of the Panthers and Malcom X and could be a great place to begin a journey into the important and fundamental questions asked by Ward Churchill in his essay “Pacifism as Pathology.” Those of us on the left so often worship the overtly saintly acts of leaders who, by their very nature as human beings, are flawed, and eventually we find ourselves comparing athletes to civil rights leaders.

    Speaking of athletes though, I do have to give it up for Sir Charles, who very publicly and artfully–I know, I know–called out MLK’s homophobic daughter on national television last year.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    The most popular view of MLK is the most sanitized, most mainstream view about his career. For most people, the narrative stops at the “I Have a Dream” speech, which is a great work of oratory. It’s also the most uncontroversial language he could have used at that point, completely mainstreaming his message.

    What is remembered far less often is what King did over the years after that speech, because those things made too many urban, liberal, middle class whites uncomfortable. He spoke out against the Viet Nam War. He suggested that racism was a national problem, not just a Southern problem. (What? We don’t have any race issues here in the North!) He suggested that urban ghettoes and black poverty were just another form of injustice, and the next thing to explore may be some economic redistribution. Way too close to home for white people who liked him better when it was all about those people in the South.

    Way more palatable to talk about black kids and white kids playing with each other, like in the I Have a Dream speech. That’s really not all that radical, considering that even in the days of slavery black children and white children might play with each other on the plantation. If he had said in the speech that black people and white people should be able to marry each other if they want, the speech would have been much less popular…..

    So, the more socially radical king has gotten dropped in favor of the kumbaya, white-safe version. Americans have a way of bleaching out the radical sides of their heroes to make them safer for conservative consumption. Helen Keller, for example? Spent most of her adult life as a spokesperson for Marxist-Leninism, and was an actual pro-Stalin communist. Who knew?

  4. TB… As someone who lived through this era- living among the Panthers, they had a free breakfast program in the Haight and a office in the Haight Fillmore- and was a disciple of MLK and a fan of Malcolm, it took all of their efforts to change America. It wasn’t just nonviolence,but the threat of riots in summer made a difference.Personally,I don’t care about the other stuff,mistakes he made.If it wasn’t for him,women wouldn’t be where they are today,especially white women.White women used discrimination lawsuits to great advantage.

  5. Amen, ogwriter. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Panthers, and some other radical folks worked together back in the day, Though goals may not have been identical, VVAW Malcolm, the Panthers, the Lakota warriors, the Weatherman, etc, etc, understood solidarity, supported each other in the shadows and the streets, and got things done. That’s why they scared Nixon so much. A bunch of white, black, red, and brown cats–many with lots of combat experience–pissed off and channeling that rage to come together in defiance of Empire. It was a slave-owner’s nightmare. Men and women alike paid dearly, but they knew they would, and they put themselves out there anyway, and we should be celebrating them every day.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Pointing out the flaws in an all-too-human icon is a bad thing, or at least neutral and not relevant to the good work the icon did.
    Unless you don’t like the guy in which case, Jefferson and Hemmings; Washington had slaves until he freed them; um JFK was a serial abuser–no, wait, he was a Good Guy. Forget it.
    Tough to keep up.

  7. Ben…One of the former Weathermen lives-I live in Oakland- around the block from me. He’s married and has a kid-he’s a decent fellow.

  8. Richard…goodpoint.

    • og-I’ve become tight with one of the VVAW founders and another dude, a photographer from Detroit who covered the riots, moved on to the Chicago Convention and settled in LA–both men I’d trust my life with. My photographer buddy ended up at Newsweek for a couple decades covering all sorts of things. The Panthers warned him about the CIA, and he thought they were crazy. Then one day some guys in suits showed up at the office and confiscated film from a protest. VVAW ended the Vietnam War. Period. They had some help from their friends, but there was a blood bond that connected them to that cause and personal bs was not allowed to get in the way, and they won. We have much to learn from all these cats.

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