The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV
The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
It's become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of
Martin Luther King's birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports
about "the slain civil rights leader."
The remarkable thing about this annual review of King's life is that
several years-- his last years-- are totally missing, as if flushed down a
What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King
battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial
harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in
Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in
An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968.
Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he
was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.
Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown
today on TV.
It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin
Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial
discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV
and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips
and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote
or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began
challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil
rights laws were empty without "human rights"-- including economic rights.
For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King
said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white,
King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps
between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of
our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a
beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs
By 1967, King had also become the country's most prominent opponent of the
Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he
deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New
York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967-- a year to the day before he was
murdered-- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of
violence in the world today."
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on
the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with
the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. was
suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the
Third World, instead of supporting them.
In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining
about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia,
Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for
the social betterment of the countries."
You haven't heard the "Beyond Vietnam" speech on network news
retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967--
and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that
sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized
that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his
In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his
life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble
"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. Reader's Digest
warned of an "insurrection."
King's economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs
to rebuild America's cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress
that had demonstrated its "hostility to the poor"-- appropriating
"military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty
funds with miserliness."
How familiar that sounds today, more than a quarter-century after King's
efforts on behalf of the poor people's mobilization were cut short by an
As 1995 gets underway, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House
and Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. And so do
most mass media. Perhaps it's no surprise that they tell us little about
the last years of Martin Luther King's life.
Media Beat is Norman Solomon's weekly syndicated column on media and
politics. Until 1996, the column was co-written by FAIR's founder, Jeff
Cohen (Cohen no longer works at FAIR). For more Media Beat columns, visit: http://www.fair.org/media-beat/index.html
You can listen to some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s anti-war speeches,
including the Riverside Church speech, at the National Radio Project's
Perhaps poverty is an issue of debt and who is "owed" that debt. And also the ownership of money as a commodity itself instead of it being a measurable means of trade and a measure of the value of work within an economy.
Governments always trumpet a budgetary surplus as a success in the same way that private enterprise will signal a profit. Both saying that we have done well, been efficient, forward thinking and responsible.
Responsible for what and to whom?
Easy enough to answer for private enterprise, to the owners or shareholders for profit and to the rest of us by obeying the various laws that require them to behave as responsible members of society. In terms of Government, the waters are a little more muddied as the influence of private enterprise has outgrown that of the individual shareholder or citizen. To be in debt with a bank or finance company, no matter why, be it greed, social pressure or just maintaining a normal lifestyle is both common and encouraged. To be in debt to the government, being paid welfare is held as being wrong, owing taxes is another thing entirely, it's almost activisim. But be it need, social circumstance or just maintaining a life, being in the wrong, being in "social debt" to the government is held up by that government as a wrong and a social irresponsibility
But is it the business of government to be creating profit in terms of a surplus at the cost of it's shareholders ? Are you worth more as a "social shareholder" than someone else? and should you have more influence because of your economic position like shareholders in private enterprise ? Should colour, race, health and education be part of the equation ? Perhaps the States that have the greatest percapita wealth should have greater influence ? Thats only fair these days, isnt it ?
This ain't a call for socialisim, and I know that George Bailey is a fiction and Bedford Falls is more a fairyland than ever now. But while the prevailing trend of using to money make money to create wealth instead of embracing the more difficult proposition of making money value work within a society and the long term social and economic good that comes to a society through growth in "non debt" spending and genuine savings. The more we are condemmed to buying our $150 dollar running shoes from some factory in Thailand or our $200 dollar whizz-bang carbon golf club from Malaysia while the current Mr. Nike or Ms. Rebok is paid multi millions for just being good at hitting, running or throwing instead of creating any real and lasting wealth for society.
By all means, win the "Open whatsit" and take the million dollar purse, if that entertains, makes you proud to be an Australian or whatever because of the result or encourages anyone to be fit and active, there's the social value. Now having used sport as an analogy, I'm not against excellence in any sphere, nor am I against anyone being highly competitive and suitably rewarded and applauded and valued as a national sporting or buisness success. But please, lets cast the value for it's real worth to the whole society and not just applaud someone making x zillion dollars on pork belly futures where the work is not yet done and the real dollar value to a society not spread. Why add unreal value to a make of tennis shoes, a brand of golf ball or a moviestars favourite watch unless those products can add real and continuing financial input to the lowering of "social debt" through paying a real value for real work.
Now where does real Government come in ?
Last edited by Oneson1; Jan 23, 2003 at 05:21 AM.
The reason you dont hear it is the same reason many here tell those espousing similar concerns to go away with their unamerican perspectives. The same reason that most trot out Jesus saying," The poor shall always be with us". It is a comfortable myth that economic systems have nothing to do with distribution of wealth. Those without deserve everything they got coming.
Re: Cheap Shot
"And the walls came tumbling down". Also, if you can wait until the year 2027 the sealed files on King are to be released by the court. Many well doccumented "leaks" from those are available. Quite a number of people saw them before they were sealed by the court.
Last edited by GYROGEARLOOSE; Jan 23, 2003 at 09:32 AM.
Martin Luther King matters not an iota in my life. I don't lionize him, nor do I denigrate him. I don't have an opinion on him one way or another. I get a day off, but during that day off, I don't become introspective and contemplate why he mattered to me. I do the same thing on President's Day and Columbus Day. Thanks for the day off, fellas, but I won't spend much time thinking about why.
JimJam that is a prejudiced, ignorant statement!! I suggest you stick to facts and logic. Shame on you!
News of MLK's womanizing came about from an FBI wiretap. A reverend, or anyone, who can not be faithful to his wife, speaks with diminished moral authority. His message about equality before the law and colorblindness should be admired and strived for, despite being delivered by an imperfect messenger.
Lastly, redistribution of wealth never works the way it's intended. The vast majority of people are successful because they worked hard. There is no "life's lottery" to win as some demagogues- I mean democrats- have stated. The poor are so for many reasons. Lack of education being one of the more prominent reasons.
To all of you who claim that blatant racism is a thing of the past. Here is a perfect example of it right here. I am appalled that there has been only one other post condemning these remarks.
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