• Myths of Martin Luther King

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    There
    is probably no greater sacred cow in America than Martin Luther
    King Jr. The slightest criticism of him or even suggesting that
    he isn't deserving of a national holiday leads to the usual accusations
    of racist, fascism, and the rest of the usual left-wing epithets
    not only from liberals, but also from many ostensible conservatives
    and libertarians.

    This
    is amazing because during the 50s and 60s, the Right almost unanimously
    opposed the civil rights movement. Contrary to the claims of many
    neocons, the opposition was not limited to the John
    Birch Society
    and southern conservatives. It was made by politicians
    like Ronald Reagan and Barry
    Goldwater
    , and in the pages of Modern Age, Human Events,
    National Review,
    and the Freeman.

    Today,
    the official conservative and libertarian movement portrays King
    as someone on our side who would be fighting Jesse Jackson and Al
    Sharpton if he were alive. Most all conservative publications and
    websites have articles around this time of the year praising King
    and discussing how today's civil rights leaders are betraying his
    legacy. Jim Powell's otherwise excellent The
    Triumph of Liberty
    rates King next to Ludwig von Mises and
    Albert J. Nock as a libertarian hero. Attend any IHS seminar, and
    you'll read "A letter from a Birmingham Jail" as a great
    piece of anti-statist wisdom. The Heritage Foundation regularly
    has lectures and symposiums honoring his legacy. There are nearly
    a half dozen neocon and left-libertarian think tanks and legal foundations
    with names such as "The Center for Equal Opportunity"
    and the "American Civil Rights Institute" which claim
    to model themselves after King.

    Why
    is a man once reviled by the Right now celebrated by it as a hero?
    The answer partly lies in the fact that the mainstream Right has
    gradually moved to the left since King's death. The influx of many
    neoconservative intellectuals, many of whom were involved in the
    civil rights movement, into the conservative movement also contributes
    to the King phenomenon. This does not fully explain the picture,
    because on many issues King was far to the left of even the neoconservatives,
    and many King admirers even claim to adhere to principles like freedom
    of association and federalism. The main reason is that they have
    created a mythical Martin Luther King Jr., that they constructed
    solely from one line in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

    In
    this article, I will try to dispel the major myths that the conservative
    movement has about King. I found a good deal of the information
    for this piece in I
    May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King

    by black leftist Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson shows that King supported
    black power, reparations, affirmative action, and socialism. He
    believes this made King even more admirable. He also deals frankly
    with King's philandering and plagiarism, though he excuses them.
    If you don't mind reading his long discussions about gangsta rap
    and the like, I strongly recommend this book.

    Myth
    #1: King wanted only equal rights, not special privileges and would
    have opposed affirmative action, quotas, reparations, and the other
    policies pursued by today's civil rights leadership.

    This
    is probably the most repeated myth about King. Writing on National
    Review Online, There Heritage Foundation's Matthew Spalding wrote
    a piece entitled "Martin
    Luther King's Conservative Mind,"
    where he wrote, "An
    agenda that advocates quotas, counting by race and set-asides takes
    us away from King’s vision."

    The problem
    with this view is that King openly advocated quotas and racial
    set-asides. He wrote that the "Negro today is not struggling
    for some abstract, vague rights, but for concrete improvement
    in his way of life." When equal opportunity laws failed to
    achieve this, King looked for other ways. In his book Where
    Do We Go From Here
    , he suggested that "A society
    that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds
    of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to
    compete on a just and equal basis." To do this he expressed
    support for quotas. In a 1968 Playboy interview, he said, “If
    a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume
    that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular
    company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial
    areas.” King was more than just talk in this regard. Working through
    his Operation Breadbasket, King threatened boycotts of businesses
    that did not hire blacks in proportion to their population.

    King
    was even an early proponent of reparations. In his 1964 book, Why
    We Can't Wait
    , he wrote,

    No
    amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the
    exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through
    the centuries…Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient
    common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation
    of a the labor of one human being by another. This law should
    be made to apply for American Negroes. 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.

    Predicting
    that critics would note that many whites were equally disadvantaged,
    King claimed that his program, which he called the "Bill of
    Rights for the Disadvantaged" would help poor whites as well.
    This is because once the blacks received reparations, the poor whites
    would realize that their real enemy was rich whites.

    Myth
    # 2: King was an American patriot, who tried to get Americans to
    live up to their founding ideals.

    In
    National Review, Roger Clegg wrote
    that "There may have been a brief moment when there existed
    something of a national consensus – a shared vision eloquently
    articulated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech,
    with deep roots in the American Creed, distilled in our national
    motto, E pluribus unum. Most Americans still share it, but
    by no means all." Many other conservatives have embraced this
    idea of an American Creed that built upon Jefferson and Lincoln,
    and was then fulfilled by King and libertarians like Clint Bolick
    and neocons like Bill Bennett.

    Despite
    his constant invocations of the Declaration of Independence, King
    did not have much pride in America's founding. He believed "our
    nation was born in genocide," and claimed that the Declaration
    of Independence and Constitution were meaningless for blacks because
    they were written by slave owners.

    Myth
    # 3: King was a Christian activist whose struggle for civil rights
    is similar to the battles fought by the Christian Right today.

    Ralph
    Reed claims that King's "indispensable genius" provided
    "the vision and leadership that renewed and made crystal clear
    the vital connection between religion and politics." He proudly
    admitted that the Christian Coalition "adopted many elements
    of King's style and tactics." The pro-life group, Operation
    Rescue, often compared their struggle against abortion to King's
    struggle against segregation. In a speech entitled The Conservative
    Virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Bill Bennet described
    King, as "not primarily a social activist, he was primarily
    a minister of the Christian faith, whose faith informed and directed
    his political beliefs."

    Both
    King's public stands and personal behavior makes the comparison
    between King and the Religious Right questionable.

    FBI
    surveillance showed that King had dozens of extramarital affairs.
    Although many of the pertinent records are sealed, several agents
    who watched observed him engage in many questionable acts including
    buying prostitutes with SCLC money. Ralph Abernathy, who King called
    "the best friend I have in the world," substantiated many
    of these charges in his autobiography, And
    the Walls Came Tumbling Down
    . It is true that a man's private
    life is mostly his business. However, most conservatives vehemently
    condemned Jesse Jackson when news of his illegitimate son came out,
    and claimed he was unfit to be a minister.

    King
    also took stands that most in the Christian Right would disagree
    with. When asked about the Supreme Court's decision to ban school
    prayer, King responded,

    I
    endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have
    said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In
    a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer
    shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise,
    the state certainly has no such right.

    While
    King died before the Roe vs. Wade decision, and, to the best of
    my knowledge, made no comments on abortion, he was an ardent supporter
    of Planned Parenthood. He even won their Margaret Sanger Award in
    1966 and had his wife give a speech entitled Family
    Planning – A Special and Urgent Concern
    which he wrote.
    In the speech, he did not compare the civil rights movement to the
    struggle of Christian Conservatives, but he did say "there
    is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s
    early efforts."

    Myth
    # 4: King was an anti-communist.

    In
    another article about Martin Luther King, Roger Clegg of National
    Review applauds
    King for speaking out against the "oppression of communism!"
    To gain the support of many liberal whites, in the early years,
    King did make a few mild denunciations of communism. He also claimed
    in a 1965 Playboy that there "are as many Communists
    in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida."
    This was a bald-faced lie. Though King was never a Communist and
    was always critical of the Soviet Union, he had knowingly surrounded
    himself with Communists. His closest advisor Stanley Levison was
    a Communist, as was his assistant Jack O'Dell. Robert and later
    John F. Kennedy repeatedly warned him to stop associating himself
    with such subversives, but he never did. He frequently spoke before
    Communist front groups such as the National Lawyers Guild and Lawyers
    for Democratic Action. King even attended seminars at The Highlander
    Folk School, another Communist front, which taught Communist tactics,
    which he later employed.

    King's
    sympathy for communism may have contributed to his opposition to
    the Vietnam War, which he characterized as a racist, imperialistic,
    and unjust war. King claimed that America "had committed more
    war crimes than any nation in the world." While he acknowledged
    the NLF "may not be paragons of virtue," he never criticized
    them. However, he was rather harsh on Diem and the South. He denied
    that the NLF was communist, and believed that Ho Chi Minh should
    have been the legitimate ruler of Vietnam. As a committed globalist,
    he believed that “our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe,
    our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective.”

    Many
    of King's conservative admirers have no problem calling anyone who
    questions American foreign policy a "fifth columnist."
    While I personally agree with King on some of his stands on Vietnam,
    it is hypocritical for those who are still trying to get Jane Fonda
    tried for sedition to applaud King.

    Myth
    # 5: King supported the free market.

    OK,
    you don't hear this too often, but it happens. For example, Father
    Robert A. Sirico delivered a paper to the Acton Institute entitled
    Civil
    Rights and Social Cooperation
    . In it, he wrote,

    A
    freer economy would take us closer to the ideals of the pioneers
    in this country’s civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    recognized this when he wrote: "With the growth of industry
    the folkways of white supremacy will gradually pass away,"
    and he predicted that such growth would "Increase the purchasing
    power of the Negro [which in turn] will result in improved medical
    care, greater educational opportunities, and more adequate housing.
    Each of these developments will result in a further weakening
    of segregation."

    King
    of course was a great opponent of the free economy. In a speech
    in front of his staff in 1966 he said,

    You
    can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without
    talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending
    the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums.
    You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because
    you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains
    of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult
    water, because it really means that we are saying that something
    is wrong…with capitalism… There must be a better distribution
    of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.

    King
    called for "totally restructuring the system" in a way
    that was not capitalist or "the antithesis of communist."
    For more information on King's economic views, see Lew Rockwell's
    The
    Economics of Martin Luther King, Jr.


    Myth # 6: King was a conservative.

    As
    all the previous myths show, King's views were hardly conservative.
    If this was not enough, it is worth noting what King said about
    the two most prominent postwar American conservative politicians,
    Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater.

    King
    accused Barry Goldwater of "Hitlerism." He believed
    that Goldwater advocated a "narrow nationalism, a crippling
    isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude." On domestic issues
    he felt that "Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism
    that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth
    century." King said that Goldwater's positions on civil rights
    were "morally indefensible and socially suicidal."

    King
    said of Reagan, "When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction
    even as an actor, can become a leading war hawk candidate for the
    presidency, only the irrationalities induced by war psychosis can
    explain such a turn of events."

    Despite
    King's harsh criticisms of those men, both supported the King holiday.
    Goldwater even fought to keep King's FBI files, which contained
    information about his adulterous sex life and Communist connections,
    sealed.

    Myth
    # 7: King wasn't a plagiarist.

    OK,
    even most of the neocons won't deny this, but it is still worth
    bringing up, because they all ignore it. King started plagiarizing
    as an undergraduate. When Boston University founded a commission
    to look into it, they found that that 45 percent of the first part
    and 21 percent of the second part of his dissertation was stolen,
    but they insisted that "no thought should be given to revocation
    of Dr. King's doctoral degree." In addition to his dissertation
    many of his major speeches, such as "I Have a Dream,"
    were plagiarized, as were many of his books and writings. For more
    information on King's plagiarism, The
    Martin Luther King Plagiarism Page
    and Theodore Pappas' Plagiarism
    and the Culture War
    are excellent resources.

    When
    faced with these facts, most of King's conservative and libertarian
    fans either say they weren't part of his main philosophy, or usually
    they simply ignore them. Slightly before the King Holiday was signed
    into law, Governor Meldrim Thompson of New Hampshire wrote a letter
    to Ronald Reagan expressing concerns about King's morality and Communist
    connections. Ronald Reagan responded, "I have the reservations
    you have, but here the perception of too many people is based on
    an image, not reality. Indeed, to them the perception is
    reality.”

    Far
    too many on the Right are worshipping that perception. Rather than
    face the truth about King's views, they create a man based upon
    a few lines about judging men "by the content of their character
    rather than the color of their skin" – something we are
    not supposed to do in his case, of course – while ignoring
    everything else he said and did. If King is truly an admirable figure,
    they are doing his legacy a disservice by using his name to promote
    an agenda he clearly would not have supported.

    January
    18, 2003

    Marcus
    Epstein [send him mail] is
    an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg,
    VA, where he is president of the college libertarians and editor
    of the conservative newspaper, The Remnant. A
    selection of his articles can be seen here
    .


         

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