Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to all my friends and comrades. I just wanted to share some brief thoughts with you all on this day of remembrance of perhaps the most historically and culturally significant fallen heroes of the freedom struggle here in the U.S.* (and around the world for that matter).
I feel that people tend to view the history of the civil rights movement as being divided between two exclusive and opposite perspectives, and I feel that that view is 1) totally wrong, and 2) more or less how elites would like us to view this history. Most people seem to think that the civil rights movement was divided between some sort of set of binary opposites: non-violence vs. violence; Martin vs. Malcolm; Civil Rights vs. Black Power. Yet this ignores so many of the facts, for one, and the real complexities and gray areas that existed.
This created, and still creates today, false historical divisions and sects. These divisions are largely myths that were very intentionally created during the historical era of these movements (and today are often played up for the same reasons) to inspire division and to subvert and repress social movement activity.
Most of the activists and leaders who made up what is called the Black Power movement celebrated both the lives and legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Most people forget that, while MLK rejected the urban rebellions of the 1960s, like Watts, for example, he did so strictly strategically and more or less sympathized with the anger and frustration of the rioters.
This of course isn’t to say that there weren’t bitter disagreements and antagonisms, but to suggest that they weren’t as simple as one is typically taught to think about them, i.e., violence vs. nonviolence, integration vs. nationalism, etc. and that the simplistic view is largely an establishment myth.
I think that the picture above symbolizes the kind of unity and understanding that existed in the civil rights movement, and should symbolize the kind of unity depsite disagreements, that the Left should strive for today. It’s a beautiful and inspiring photo to consider on this Martin Luther King day.
* It’s precisely his importance that makes it so important for elites to co-opt and/or water down the message of MLK, and that is why it is so crucial that we remember him and his legacy — especially his commitment to revolutionary change, his commitment to internationalism, which are systematically left out of almost every mainstream event that (ab)uses MLK’s legacy. Elites have to co-opt and abuse every revolutionary idea or notion which gains popularity, turn it into a characacher of it self, or inverse their message. As Marx said, “Everything that is solid melts into air,” noting is sacred in the service of capitalism and profit. This has happened with everything from the history of the US civil war to end slavery, to the history of MLK and the civil rights movement, to punk rock and hip hop. It is our responsibility to reclaim our revolutionary culture and make it a threat again.