A Bogus Holiday

Last week, the Mises Institute didn’t celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Why not? Is it because we are “racists”? Not at all. King has become an icon, who in the eyes of the Left must be viewed with adoration. He was in fact a disreputable person, underserving of honor in a free society. The transformation of King into a moral saint resembles the way George Floyd, a thug and drug addict, has become the “Gentle Giant,” while people riot in his name.

The great historian Paul Gottfried has explained the way in which worship of King has become a religion: “A young friend has just sent me the program for the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday that will take place next week at Kenyon College. The unifying theme is ‘Martin Luther King, Was He a Twentieth-Century Jesus,’ a key question that one is led to believe should be answered in the affirmative. The featured speaker for this sacral event is the Black Nationalist professor of law at New York University and ‘a pioneer in the Critical Race Theory Movement,’ Derrick Bell, who in all probability will tell the audience what he has been invited to say. What my young disciple did not know when he sent me the announcement is that our college is sponsoring a similar celebration, albeit one without Bell. Our students and faculty are expected to spend all of next Monday attending carefully selected panels dealing with the self-sacrificing goodness of Dr. King and the abjectly racist society he came to redeem. While our chaplain at a recent ‘holiday luncheon’ could not bring herself to mention the Christian savior in a Christmas prayer, lest she offend some unidentified Kwanza celebrant, she and her onetime Christian colleagues are exhausting themselves in preparation for next Monday’s events.

Although this form of savior-displacement opens the door to many questions not all of which I can address here, there are two misconceptions concerning the King cult that warrant immediate discussion. In both cases, I am criticizing my well-meaning traditionalist friends who have pooh-poohed what is going on. The holiday, contrary to what some predicted would happen twenty years ago, has not turned into ‘just another George Washington birthday-type vacation,’ marked by bargain sales and a few entirely forgettable media references. MLK comes as the prelude to a new Lenten month that is full of compulsory meditation on the sins of white racism. The national birthday shows all the spontaneity of a celebration of Hitler’s birthday held in Germany during the Third Reich. Already in the late eighties my youngest daughter had to spend MLK’s birthdays in an elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland, listing the reasons for which we were to feel grateful to the honored hero. When Sara noted that among King’s achievements was that the ‘blacks got to use white bathrooms’ in Southern states, the teacher complained that she was not ‘respecting him sufficiently.’ Jesus may be praised in the Bible for helping to cater a Jewish wedding but for King we are only allowed to bring up the big stuff. Perhaps my daughter should have praised King for repeating the Old Testament miracle of causing the sun to stand still.

It is also insufficient to compare the adoration of King to various statements made by Abolitionists, which likened the martyrdom of real or alleged anti-slavery crusaders to the crucifixion of Jesus. Eulogies heaped on John Brown and Abraham Lincoln may have been tasteless but they were also relatively harmless. The people who made them were usually devout, Bible-reading Christians, and although carried away by their rhetorical zeal, they then went back to their traditional beliefs and established ways of life. Although some of these zealots such as Ralph Waldo Emerson may have been whacky religious innovators, they never tried to substitute the worship of a violent Abolitionist for that of the Christian God. For one thing, they were living in a still intact American Protestant society, at which at most they could chip away at the edges. Moreover, New England Brahmins usually exemplified social propriety, and once slavery as an issue was gone, they took up other sorts of activities, e.g., preserving their cultural and ethnic hegemony in the face of the new immigration. (Emerson and Henry Adams, from their correspondence, seem to have dreaded the impending disappearance of the WASP America in which they had spent their youth.)

What I am suggesting is that the state- and media-enforced celebration of King as the new Jesus is a truly novel event in Western history. It is different in kind from the encomia lavished on earlier social reformers or from any mere acknowledgement of a political change associated with a particular figure. The ostentatious celebration of the new redeemer has occurred together with another equally conspicuous watershed, the slighting, often by liberal Christians, of the official holiday set aside for the birth of the now eclipsed Christian savior. I predict that the two developments will continue to unfold at the same time, as multiculturalism and the managerial state provide a substitute religion for the older Christian faith. Note this has nothing substantive to do with secularization or with the commercialization of Christianity. We are talking about religious substitution and not the vanishing of the sense of the sacred.

There is now a state-sponsored cult of Martin Luther King, which has taken over certain aspects of Christian redemptive history and adapted them to its needs. The French and Bolshevik Revolutions both undertook something similar when they tried to replace the existing Christian liturgical calendars with revolutionary ones, but without much success. After all, the revolutionaries of an earlier age were dealing with mostly peasant societies that could not be turned around very fast. But we in our time have done better, with increasingly rootless and media-drenched subjects educated in PC. When I ask my students about the Bible, I usually draw blank stares. But as soon as I turn the conversation to King and the problems of racism and sexism, I am standing in the presence of experts. Obviously my students have learned their catechism in public school and therefore can give all the rote answers that they have learned from years of indoctrination.”

What was the real King like, as opposed to this pseudo-religious cult? First, King had close ties to members of the Communist party. The late Senator Jesse Helms pointed out: “Mr. President, in light of the comments by the Senator from Massachusetts (Mr. Kennedy), it is important that there be such an examination of the political activities and associations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., principally from the beginning of his work in the civil rights movement in the mid 1950s until his death in 1968. Throughout this period, but especially toward the beginning and end of his career, King associated with identified members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), with persons who were former members of or close to the CPUSA, and with CPUSA front organizations. In some important respects King’s civil rights activities and later his opposition to the Vietnam war were strongly influenced by and dependent on these associations.

There is no evidence that King himself was a member of the CPUSA or that he was a rigorous adherent of Marxist ideology or of the Communist Party line. Nevertheless, King was repeatedly warned about his associations with known Communists by friendly elements in the Kennedy Administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) (including strong and explicit warning from President Kennedy himself). King took perfunctory and deceptive measures to separate himself from the Communists against whom he was warned. He continued to have close and secret contacts with at least some of them after being informed and warned of their background, and he violated a commitment to sever his relationships with identified Communists. Throughout his career King, unlike many other civil rights leaders of his time, associated with the most extreme political elements in the United States. He addressed their organizations, signed their petitions, and invited them into his own organizational activities. . . .

King’s patterns of associations and activities described in this report show that, at the least, he had no strong objection to Communism, that he appears to have welcomed collaboration with Communists, and that he and his principal vehicle, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), were subject to influence and manipulation by Communists. The conclusion must be that Martin Luther King, Jr. was either an irresponsible individual, careless of his own reputation and that of the civil rights movement for integrity and loyalty, or that he knowingly cooperated and sympathized with subversive and totalitarian elements under the control of a hostile foreign power.”

The research on which Senator Helms based his speech was done by the great Sam Francis. He offers a useful addition to the Senator’s remarks here; “So, was Jesse Helms right about Martin Luther King? That King had close connections with individuals and groups that were openly communist is clear today, as it was clear during King’s own lifetime and during the debate on the holiday bill. Indeed, only two weeks after the Senate vote, on November 1, 1983, the New York Times published a letter written by Michael Parenti, an associate fellow of the far-left Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and a frequent contributor to Political Affairs, an official organ of the Communist Party that styles itself the ‘Theoretical Journal of the Communist Party USA.’

The letter demanded ‘What if communists had links to Dr. King?’ Mr. Parenti pointed out that ‘The three areas in which King was most active — civil rights, peace and the labor struggle (the latter two toward the end of his life) — are also areas in which U.S. Communists have worked long and devotedly,’ and he criticized ‘liberals’ who ‘once again accept the McCarthyite premise that U.S. Communists are purveyors of evil and that any association with them taints one forever. Dr. King himself would not have accepted such a premise.’ Those of Mr. Parenti’s persuasion may see nothing scandalous in associations with known communists, but the ‘liberals’ whom he criticized knew better than to make that argument in public.”

Second, King was a serial adulterer and degenerate. Sam Francis says: “While researching King’s background in 1983, I deliberately chose to dwell on his communist affiliations rather than on other issues involving his sexual morality. I did so because at that time the facts about King’s subversive connections were well-documented, while the details of his sex life were not. In the course of writing the paper, however, I spoke to several former agents of the FBI who had been personally engaged in the FBI surveillance of King and who knew from first-hand observation that the rumors about his undisciplined sex life were substantially true.

A few years later, with the publication in 1989 of Ralph Abernathy’s autobiography, ‘And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,’ those rumors were substantiated by one of King’s closest friends and political allies. It is quite true that a person’s sex life is largely his own business, but in the case of an internationally prominent figure such as King, they become publicly relevant, and they are especially relevant given the high moral stature King’s admirers habitually ascribe to him, the issue of his integrity as a Christian clergyman, and the proposal to elevate him to the status of a national moral icon.

In the course of the Senate debate on the King holiday, the East office received a letter from a retired FBI official, Charles D. Brennan. Mr. Brennan, who had served as Assistant Director of the FBI, stated that he had personally been involved in the FBI surveillance of King and knew from first-hand observation the truth about King’s sexual conduct — conduct that Mr. Brennan characterized as ‘orgiastic and adulterous escapades, some of which indicated that King could be bestial in his sexual abuse of women.’

He also stated that ‘King frequently drank to excess and at times exhibited extreme emotional instability as when he once threatened to jump from his hotel room window.’ In a study that he prepared, Mr. Brennan described King’s ‘sexual activities and his excessive drinking’ that FBI surveillance discovered. It was this kind of conduct, he wrote, that led FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to describe King as ‘a tomcat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges’ and President Lyndon Johnson to call King a ‘hypocrite preacher.’ Mr. Brennan also acknowledged:

‘It was much the FBI collected. It was not the FBI’s most shining hour. There would be no point in wallowing in it again. The point is that it is there. It is there in the form of transcripts, recordings, photos and logs. It is there in great quantity. There are volumes of material labeled “obscene.” Future historians just will not be able to avoid it.’

It is precisely this material that is sealed under court order until the year 2027 and to which the Senate was denied access prior to the vote on the King holiday.

One instance from King’s life that perhaps illuminates his character was provided by historian David Garrow in his study of the FBI’s surveillance of King. Garrow recounts what the FBI gathered during a 48-hour surveillance of King between February 22 and 24, 1964 in the Hyatt House Motel in Los Angeles: ‘In that forty-eight hours the Bureau acquired what in retrospect would be its most prized recordings of Dr. King. The treasured highlight was a long and extremely funny story-telling session during which King (a) bestowed supposedly honorific titles or appointments of an explicitly sexual nature on some of his friends, (b) engaged in an extended dialogue of double-entendre phrases that had sexual as well as religious connotations, and (c) told an explicit joke about the rumored sexual practices of recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy, with reference to both Mrs. Kennedy, and the President’ funeral.’

Garrow’s characterization of the episode as ‘extremely funny’ is one way of describing the incident; another is that during the session in Los Angeles, King, a Christian minister, made obscene jokes with his own followers (several of them also ministers), made sexual and sacrilegious jokes, and made obscene and insulting remarks intended to be funny about the late President Kennedy and his sex life with Mrs. Kennedy.

It should be recalled that these jokes were made by King about a man who had supported his controversial cause, had lost political support because of his support for King and the civil rights movement, and had been dead for less than three months at the time King engaged in obscene humor about him and his wife. In February, 1964, the nation was still in a state of shock over Kennedy’s death, but King apparently found his death a suitable occasion for dirty jokes.”

Third, King plagiarized throughout his career. The New York Times reported in 1991: “A committee of scholars appointed by Boston University concluded today that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized passages in his dissertation for a doctoral degree at the university 36 years ago.

‘There is no question,’ the committee said in a report to the university’s provost, ‘but that Dr. King plagiarized in the dissertation by appropriating material from sources not explicitly credited in notes, or mistakenly credited, or credited generally and at some distance in the text from a close paraphrase or verbatim quotation.’

Despite its finding, the committee said that ‘no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King’s doctoral degree,’ an action that the panel said would serve no purpose.

But the committee did recommend that a letter stating its finding be placed with the official copy of Dr. King’s dissertation in the university’s library.”

For these reasons, we refuse to pander to Leftwing idolatry by honoring “Dr.” King.