MLK: More than a Civil Rights leader

Brian Trautman writes about "the Martin Luther King Jr. you may not know."
Jan 20, 2014


Most Americans know Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the 20th century’s most revered voices for racial equality, the charismatic leader of the American Civil Rights movement, who gave the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Perhaps they even know a thing or two about his role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Birmingham Campaign. This knowledge by and large derives from compulsory education and mainstream media.

It is significantly less likely, however, that very many Americans know much at all, if anything, about King’s radical and controversial activities related to the issues of poverty and militarism, particularly the latter.

King highlighted three primary forms of violence, oppression and injustice in American society and across the world: poverty, racism and militarism. He referred to these as the “triple evils,” and considered them to be interrelated problems, existing in a vicious and intractable cycle, and standing as formidable barriers to achieving the Beloved Community, a brotherly society built upon and nurtured by love, nonviolence, peace and justice. King posited that when we resisted any one evil, we in turn weakened all evils, but that a measurable and lasting impact would require us to address all three.

King’s work to educate about and eradicate poverty was among his greatest passions. In “The Octopus of Poverty,” a statement appearing in The Mennonite in 1965, King observed, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.” Accordingly, “the time has come for an all-out world war against poverty.” He strongly believed “the rich nations,” namely the United States, had a moral responsibility to care for its most vulnerable populations, noting that such “nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed.” King held, “ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation,” and maintained that “no individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.”

In late 1967 King announced the Poor People’s Campaign, an innovative effort designed to educate Americans on poverty issues and recruit both poor people and antipoverty activists for nonviolent social change. The priority of the project was to march on, and to occupy, if you will, Washington and to demand the Congress pass meaningful legislation to improve the social and economic status of the poor, through directed measures such as jobs, unemployment insurance, health care, decent homes, a fair minimum wage, and education. Alas, Dr. King was assassinated only weeks before the actual march took place. And while the march went ahead as planned in May of 1968, it is thought that the lack of substantive change to result was due in large part to King’s absence. Still, a positive outcome of the initiative was a heightened public awareness of the nation’s growing poor population.

Perhaps most controversial were King’s positions on militarism and U.S. foreign policy. In “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” published in 1967, King said of war and its consequences: “A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped, psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.” He cautioned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King’s most pointed speech against militarism was “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” delivered at Riverside Church in NYC on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. While King’s popularity among political allies and his inner circle was already beginning to wane because of his increasing public criticism of U.S. foreign policy and the growing war in Vietnam, the Beyond Vietnam speech was to become his most public dissent of the war to date, a war still largely unopposed by the majority.

To speak out in opposition to the war, he acknowledged, was personally necessitated, asserting, “because my conscience leaves me no other choice.” With such a call to conscience, “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” And in the present day, argued King, “that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” In the speech King calls the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and questions why money is being spent to wage war on foreign lands against foreign people while the war on poverty at home was being neglected, financially and otherwise.

The major media of the time denounced the speech and King lost a great deal of support among his colleagues and the American people for it.

We owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren, as well as our communities and nation to learn and teach about and take up King’s efforts focused not only on ending racism but all three of the evils against which he untiringly stood. Only then will we find ourselves closer to achieving King’s dream of the Beloved Community. A small but important step toward this goal is to volunteer, as my family and I do, with a charitable and progressive cause on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a national day of service.

Brian J. Trautman writes for PeaceVoice. He is a military veteran, an instructor of peace studies at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Mass., and a peace activist.



Grand Haven is so racist the local schools refuse to recognize the day in MLK's honor. Yet the schools will be closed on Wednesday for an arbitrary reason. It is a snub in the face of MLK's legacy for the schools to fail to pause for what the administration informally calls "black Monday."

Beach Gal

For a time I worked in the superintendent's office and I used to hear him refer to "afro-Americans." I always wanted to report it but I needed the job so I didn't. From my perspective there was a culture of racism from the top down.


What gets me is the amount of confusion even today. I have traveled all over the country for work, I grew up in Muskegon and lived in the Heights. It gets me that in today's day and age that people still don't know how to even refer to blacks. Some call them Colored, African Americans,and believe it or not even Negro's. All are offensive and none are acceptable yet so many people don't know that. This long after MLK, white people still don't know what to say, how to act, or what to do around Black people or for Black Holidays. Get involved, educate, and don't be afraid to correct people, most of them don't know because we are stuck in this little corner of the world of White Majority. Skin color doesn't make a difference on who a person is.

Tri-cities realist

So calling them African Americans is taboo now?


Oh Buddy. Yes big time. Black American's is fine but as I was corrected, "Man I am not from Africa, I was born here just like you."


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a complex individual - no question - he was human, with great strengths and significant foibles. I am not someone who doesn't recognize that Martin Luther King was a huge figure in American history - generally as a positive force. I was fortunate enough to personally attend a speech he gave at my college, and left with an understanding I had just seen and heard an extraordinarily talented man; I was personally involved in the rally at the U.S. Capitol that was the springboard for his birthday being designated a National Holiday.

However, since Mr. Trautman decided to tell us about things that we allegedly didn't know about Martin Luther King, allow me to expand with some others:

He plagiarized almost 1/3 of his doctoral dissertation at Boston University, and he "borrowed" parts of his famous "I have a Dream Speech" from Dr. Archibald J. Carey, Jr.'s speech to the 1952 Republican National Convention in Chicago, which concluded: “…from every mountain side, let freedom ring. Not only from the Green Mountains and the White mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain in Georgia, from the Great Smokies of Tennessee and from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia…” (Carey, Address to the Republican National Convention, 8 July 1952).

He was a philander, seeking out women at his rallies and prostitutes. This was confirmed by King's close friend and fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy in is 1989 autobiography, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.

King was supported and surrounded by many Communists - to the point that Bobby Kennedy, appointed Attorney General by his brother John F Kennedy, Jr., authorized J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap King extensively. Although there is little evidence that King was a Communist, the wiretaps coupled with his sexual proclivities undoubtedly are the reason that we have no access to Dr. King's records that are sealed until 2027.

So, as we rightly celebrate Dr. King's birthday, "We owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren, as well as our communities and nation to learn and teach about. . . " all facets of his life that made Dr. King what he was.


If this is true, I'd be interested to hear who calls today "black Monday". My high school kid said that MLK was discussed in most of her classes, videos, teachers discussing MLK. are there racists? of course. but there are some pretty awesome people too in GH.


From Snope's. (BTW, I'm not posting the whole article)
The claim that Martin Luther King "stole" his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from black pastor Archibald Carey is overblown. Carey's speech, a 1952 address to the Republican National Convention, and King's speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963, are quite different; the only substantive similarity between them occurs in their perorations: both speeches end with a recitation of the first verse of Samuel Francis Smith's popular patriotic hymn "America" (composed in 1832) and references to several American geographic locations from which the speakers exhort their listeners to "let freedom ring":


I said "borrowed"

Martin Luther King plagiarized his famous "I Have a Dream" speech-Disputed!
Critics have charged that King plagiarized that too by borrowing from a speech given to the Republican convention in 1952 by an African-American preacher named Archibald Carey, Jr.
Some of them say he gave Cary's speech word-for-word.
It can probably be said that King borrowed from the idea of the speech by Carey (who was a friend of King's), but only the last couple of paragraph's resembled Carey's speech and little of it is word-for-word.
Both men spun their remarks off the words of the song "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

King's speech ended with:
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Carey's speech ended with:
We, Negro Americans, sing with all loyal Americans: My country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrims' pride From every mountainside Let freedom ring!
That's exactly what we mean--from every mountain side, let freedom ring. Not only from the Green Mountains and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain
in Georgia, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia--let it ring not only for the minorities of the United States, but for the disinherited of all the earth--may the Republican Party, under God, from every mountainside,


What is not contested is the degree of hate and fear J. Edgar Hoover felt for Dr. Martin Luther King, calling him "the most dangerous and effective Negro in the country". It was the 1963 March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech that triggered Hoover to commit vast resources to spy, bug and tap phones, break into MLK's office and home, and even the motels he stayed in; they intercepted and opened his mail, and grilled his associates. These extreme actions, sanctioned by the government and signed off by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, were justified by the suspicion Dr. King was a communist; no evidence was ever found.

It's difficult to imagine Dr. King being referred to as "a notorious liar", and a "filthy, abnormal, and fraudulent" man, and to know that agents sent an anonymous letter to him suggesting he commit suicide as a way "out". That Dr. King is today honored for his transformative calls for peace, social justice, and civil rights is a testament to the force and depth of his spirit in the face of unfettered abuse of power.


It's an interesting thought in regard to schools being opened or closed for MLK Day. If the students are not in school then most likely they are not having discussions or learning about MLK. They are at home playing video games or hanging out with friends.

If they are in school hopefully teachers are taking a portion of their day to talk about MLK. Being in education I would think it would be better for them to be in school because it creates a better situation in which the students can learn and discuss the impact MLK had on our country.

Former Grandhavenite

I've never had a problem with the fact that people don't spend the day off learning about MLK. Part of the purpose of a holiday is not just to commemorate the relevant people/events, but to give people a day off to celebrate. If someone wants to spend MLK day relaxing or whatever instead of reading a MLK biography, more power to them- They'll still realize that we as a society value the contribution of MLK enough to set aside a day and honor him. The holidays that we as a society choose to take off from work/school say a lot about what we value.



Former Grandhavenite

Now all of these 'former' segregationist and racist politicians are coming out of the woodwork to say how they always supported MLK and civil rights, and were actually ahead of their time.

50 years from now we'll be seeing the same thing, where the most hardcore homophobes and xenophobes will be saying, "See, back in the early part of the 2000's I actually supported gay rights and immigrant rights!" "No, I didn't think anyone who had ever smoked weed should rot in prison for the rest of their life- I just had to vote that way to keep the base happy!" Just once I'd like to see some conservative senator actually get ahead of the curve on one of these issues, instead of always being dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

We can be almost certain that secret files will turn up decades from now that the FBI and other security agencies have infiltrated gay rights, immigration reform groups, and cannabis legalization groups active nowadays.

Tri-cities realist

You mean the Democrat senators who opposed the civil rights act, correct?


That's right - the southern Democrats who turned Republican in the time it takes to say "passage of the Civil Rights Act". The same Republicans that bred the following: "Florida Republican and hopeful-state-House-Rep. Joshua Black’s social media presence is chock full of tea party-style criticisms of President Obama, but the language used in a tweet on Martin Luther King Jr. Day has taken that rhetoric to a whole new level.

“I’m past impeachment,” Joshua Black, who is also African American, tweeted on Monday. “It’s time to arrest and hang him high.”

Kind of makes our local Dave Agema's comments seem pale in comparison.


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