Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of one of my favorite publications, the brilliant Jacobin Magazine, a take on socialism and democracy that is at the same time intellectually rigorous yet funny and unpretentious. He had a great little piece on MLK that appeared in the Guardian. Her opens with a provocative bit of political history:
In 1983, 15 years after King’s death, 22 senators voted against an official holiday honoring him on the third Monday in January. The North Carolina senator Jesse Helms undertook a 16-day filibuster of the bill, claiming that King’s “action-oriented Marxism” was “not compatible with the concepts of this country”. He was joined in his opposition by Senators John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and Chuck Grassley, among others.
Sunkara thinks that they weren’t wrong, back in 1983, to still view MLK’s true principles as a threat to the power and privilege, a hierarchy that these politicians were working to protect.
Reagan reluctantly signed the legislation, all the while grumbling that he would have preferred “a day similar to Lincoln’s birthday, which is not technically a national holiday”.
And guess what? He had a reason to be hesitant. The real Martin Luther King Jr stood for a radical vision of equality, justice, and anti-militarism that rebelled against Reagan’s entire agenda.
Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t a prophet of unity. He was a champion of the poor and oppressed. And if we want to truly honor his legacy, we’ll struggle to finish his work.