Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dead! Whither the future? Dan Rathers

martin luther2Dan Rather 4/4/18
7 hrs ·
Has it really been 50 years? The head begins to spin, the heart beats faster, and the palms moisten with perspiration. It is the reminder of the news that seared my being on first hearing it, and many times since – the news that tore at the fabric of our nation igniting the simmering embers of racial injustice and violence that has plagued the United States since its founding.
Dateline: Memphis. April 4, 1968.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shot!
martin luther
I had dreaded this day would come since the moment I first met the charismatic young preacher, just a few years older than myself. It was 1962, in Albany Georgia and I had been assigned to cover the fledgeling Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s early campaign there would end in disappointment, but I could tell this was a man on a mission who could accomplish the impossible, if he could tempt fate to stay alive long enough in the face of the hatred that was bred into institutionalized racism. Dr. King did not die as soon as I feared but did not live as long, nearly as long, as I hoped. Or as our nation needed.
In all the memories of Dr. King, I would like to direct your attention to one that does not get nearly the attention it deserves. On April 4, 1967, Dr. King took the pulpit at Riverside Church in New York for one of the most consequential and controversial speeches of his career. It was entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” and most Americans weren’t ready for the message he would deliver. Instead of the optimism of “I Have a Dream,” there was a weariness verging on pessimism. “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” King said. “. . . We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” King preached about money going for bombs instead of to the needy, about the uneven burden of military service between the rich and the poor, and about the institutionalization of violence at the heart of all wars. King described the plight of the Vietnamese and argued that the world would see us as occupiers. In his most controversial statement, he equated the use of napalm by the U.S. military with the tactics of Nazi Germany. “What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?”
I was not in the pews that evening, but I remember reading the press coverage and feeling a deep ache in my heart. The thought occurred that perhaps King had gone too far. He got a standing ovation from his antiwar audience, but the larger response to the speech was highly negative. The New York Times ran an editorial entitled “Dr. King’s Error” that suggested, in an observation echoed by many commentators and even some of King’s allies, that the civil rights leader should have kept his focus on racial justice instead of war.
But King saw these causes as inextricably linked. A few days after the speech, he was captured on an FBI surveillance tape in a heated debate with his friend Stanley Levison. Levison worried the speech was a disaster that played into the hands of their critics. King was resolute in response. “I figure I was politically unwise but morally wise. I think I have a role to play which may be unpopular.” That quote is as eloquent a definition of dissent as you are likely to find. In all the sanitized reimaginings of King’s legacy, the Riverside Church speech is too often forgotten. That is a mistake because it captures both the complexities of the times and of a man who was one of the great dissenters in American history. King had exhorted his audience “to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism” to “a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.” I like the phrases “smooth patriotism” and “firm dissent” because fighting for justice is rarely smooth and dissent requires steely resolve.
We have a long history in the United States of marginalized voices eventually convincing majorities through the strength of their ideas. Our democracy provides fertile soil where seeds of change can grow. Few knew that better than King.
(Much of the above passage is from my book “What Unites Us” in the essay on Dissent.)
On this day, there will be no shortage of encomiums to Dr. King. But I fear that what will be lost is the quality of his character and the fierceness of his beliefs Many who now pay lip service to his legacy would be demonizing his rhetoric if he were alive today. May we regain the full measure of the man, who while not a saint, helped lead our nation to a more promising future.
#MLK50 #WhatUnitesUs

About Suzanne

Suzanne Lewis, editor and manager Wholisticbodymind.com since 2000. Suzanne is a Planetary Peacekeeper, an Agent for Conscious Evolution, a Spiritual Healer, a Mother, a multi - faceted artist (beads, gems to trade beads; guords star seed art; published author and Lover of Life for the sake of All our Relations.
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