Sunday, September 11, 2016


I have just finished a new book by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz. It's called Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year.  

I don't have time and space to connect all the dots to the social challenges that still confront us 50 years later. But I have pulled meaningful quotes throughout the text in the hopes of encouraging PWP readers to reflect upon King's words and the authors' interpretation. All page numbers refer to the large print edition.

In his last year on earth. Dr. King was often charged with "weakening his cause by joining issues that  [according to his critics] should be treated separately" (p.74). Some of his critics were former allies who tended to back President Johnson instead. Johnson separated out the Vietnam War as though it were not a civil rights issue, and King saw this as disingenuous.

In fact, MLK saw the war du jour and civil rights as inextricably intertwined. In King's own words: "We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together... you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others" (p. 74). You may have heard of what King termed the three "evil triplets"--racism, capitalism, and militarism--from his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, which was delivered exactly a year before his assassination.

Fast forward to a month before King's death. He is standing in front of a mostly white audience in Grosse Pointe, trying to promote the not-so-popular Poor People's Campaign. King tries to subdue the upset crowd: "We must all learn to live together as brothers in this country or we're all going to perish together as fools" (p. 238).

At one point, he actually invites a "particularly boisterous the stage" (p. 237). MLK listens politely as the heckler accuses King of treason. As a navy veteran, the man argues, he fought for freedom and he fought against communism. He said that he did not want "to be sold down the drain" (p.237). King then responds simply, "We love our boys who are fighting there and we just want them to come back home" (p. 238).

As a Christian minister, Martin Luther King illustrates the human struggle using the symbolism of the cross. "The cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on. The cross may mean the death of your popularity... It may mean the death of a foundation grant. It may cut your budget down a little, but take up your cross and just bear it" (p. 74).

A take away I get is that we bear individual crosses but we also bear collective crosses. No easy task, shouldering the burden together. But this coexistence does in fact lighten the load and may be the only way to save humanity.

I need to finish on a positive note because it's challenging to think of what Dr. Martin Luther King endured in that final year--not to mention that it's also a little but challenging to think about the end of humanity.

This quote comes from a sermon that King preached at a United Methodist church in Los Angeles. Despite King's assessment that it is "midnight in race relations in our country," he is determined to maintain hope.

First, he differentiates between hope and desire. "You may desire money, but you hope for peace. You may desire sex, but you hope for freedom. You may desire beautiful clothes, but you hope for the ringing of justice" (p. 242).

Next, he goes on to say, "I have seen hate, and all the time I see it, I say to myself, 'Hate is too great a burden to bear'." (p. 243).

Finally, he says he has seen people who have lost hope and that he doesn't want to be like that. In short, he sums it up, "It is only through love that we keep hope alive" (p. 242).

Contributed to Purple Walrus Press by Claire R, a birthright Michigander

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