Martin Luther King, Jr did not get killed for daring to dream of a day when a man would be judged by the color of his skin but the content of his character, he was assassinated for saying things like the “United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
King did not see U.S. foreign policy as something disconnected from the edifice that needed restructuring; just the opposite.
When King was killed, he was traveling the country to rally support for the Poor People’s Campaign. He envisioned "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. In King’s words, Congress had displayed "hostility to the poor" by appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."
When King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church exactly one year before his death he said: “Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path…”
In defending accusations from within his own ranks that peace and civil rights don’t mix, King said:
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
This prompted Life magazine to write that Kings words were "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi" and lead Reader’s Digest to warn of a coming “insurrection.”
While we can debate how close our nation has come to realizing the dream of King’s – that his children would live in a world that did not judge a man by the color of his skin but by the content of his character - we have progressed far enough towards that day to have elected to the office of President a man whose skin color would have had him drinking out of a separate water fountain just a few generations ago.
Let us then judge Obama by the content of his character.
As commander in chief of a country that is still very much the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, what would King say to him were he here?
This year, the observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. day enjoys the ironic calendar pairing of being the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s farewell address, when he warned of the growing Military Industrial Complex.
I imagine that if King were alive today, he would be underscoring Eisenhower’s warning and be a champion championing Bradley Manning much more so than Barack Obama.
And Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked documents to WikiLeaks that lay bare the machinations behind a government that is still hostile to the poor and produce perpetual war, could use more people like King who saw silence as a betrayal.
-Dennis Trainor, Jr.