King was more than his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech


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 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.

From “Why we can’t wait”, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. published in 1964.

Americans will pause on Monday, January 18 to observe a day of remembrance for the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1928 – April 4, 1968). Since 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been a public holiday in the United States.

King is the first African-American to be so honoured. Many people are comfortable with the image of King as a dreamer who wanted to be accepted by White people and his “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963) is quoted extensively. The image of a radical King who named and challenged White supremacy and White skin privilege makes many people uncomfortable.

However, King was assassinated because of his increasingly radical stance on issues such as the racialization of poverty, his demands for reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans, his opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War and, specifically, the use of young African-American men as cannon fodder.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before King was assassinated, he spoke at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at the Riverside Church in New York City. During his speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”, King said: “Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.

“We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

On April 4, 1967 King also noted: “During the past 10 years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military ‘advisors’ in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments, accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala.

“It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable'”.

Today, the American government is still trying to maintain “social stability” for their investments in developing countries through the use of their military forces. In a move that some Africans consider an American attempt to recolonize the African continent, the American government on October 1, 2007 established The United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM).

AFRICOM is a Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense that is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations – an area of responsibility covering all of Africa except Egypt. There is such a growing resistance ( to the establishment of AFRICOM on African soil that AFRICOM is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

As Americans prepare to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 18, it is ironic that Dr. King’s words from 43 years ago (April 4, 1967) still hold true: “Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken – the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment”.

It is indeed sad that even with the much-needed change in complexion in the White House the American government has not changed and Dr. King’s words from April 4, 1967 are very much pertinent today in 2010 and still unheeded by the American government: “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we, as a nation, must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

For those who plan to honour Dr. King’s memory, recognize his work and his contribution to the Civil Rights movement; in classrooms, places of worship, workplaces etc., please look further than his “I Have a Dream” speech and that popular one-dimensional image.

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