Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, January 18, 2010

There's a king at the glory river . . .

My life coincides with the modern Civil Rights Movement. I was born the day after Brown v Board of Education was decided. (Now you've learned my secret.) Martin Luther King Jr. emerged on the national stage just a year later, in the Montgomery bus boycott, and as I became aware of the world in my elementary school years the movement was at its height with the sit ins, the freedom rides, and the voting rights struggles. Dr. King was murdered when I was 14. After I graduated from college, I became an ACORN organizer. I don't suppose many people know the true history of ACORN or what it's all about but the idea was sparked by George Wiley and people associated with the Congress of Racial Equality.

Dr. King's political legacy has been sanitized. A national holiday that truly celebrated his beliefs could only exist in a different country from this one. In his brief career he moved beyond leadership of an ethnic liberation movement to a fundamental critique of U.S. society in which racism was only one component. He tried to transform the Black liberation movement he inspired into a poor people's movement. He condemned the U.S. war in Vietnam as just one manifestation of an imperialist ideology intimately tied to the exploitation of American workers. The entire time, the FBI was trying to kill him. This is a documented, historic fact, not a wacko conspiracy theory. J. Edgar Hoover personally wrote to him and offered not to reveal evidence of his adultery if he would kill himself, for one example. And J. Edgar Hoover's name is still on the FBI building in Washington.

Sen. Kerry is trying to force the FBI to open up its records of the era. Yes, it's true: the conduct of your government in domestic matters 50 years ago is still a secret from you, the citizens of the U.S. As the Globe's Bryan Bender reports:

[Stuart] Wexler, 33, was recently researching a book about plots to murder King when he learned the FBI’s archives contained a document about a Ku Klux Klan leader who claimed to have played a role in the civil rights leader’s assassination in 1968. When Wexler filed a request for a copy, he was informed that it had been destroyed as part of regular house cleaning. He then learned there had been a government clerical error and the file was not lost to history.

Still, Wexler will have to submit another formal request, this time with the right file number, and is unsure what he will receive, or when he will receive it.

Others also believe the FBI is holding on to a variety of records that may contain valuable information, including leads the FBI may not have followed about a rash of racial killings in the South from the 1940s to the 1960s.

No shit Sherlock. The FBI in fact committed many of those killings - that is to say, the perpetrators were on the FBI payroll.

Sadly, today, Dr. King's dream of creating a movement for human liberation that transcended ethnic and racial divisions has failed. Struggling white people in the U.S. are being seduced by a far right, racist movement that has them convinced their problems come from efforts by government to promote equality, which they interpret as taking from good people like themselves and giving to those dark others. That has been the fundamental problem in American politics since the failure of the Populist Movement of the late 19th Century, a failure rooted in precisely the same problems we face today: Racial divisions in the working class, and a Democratic Party ultimately controlled by financial interests that consistently betrays its popular base.

Oh well. I'll never give up.


robin andrea said...

I pulled out some old music over the weekend and listened to Phil Ochs. I believe there was a time in the mid to late 60s when we were a nation truly on the verge of real change. Then something happened, oh right, I remember: 1968 and Richard Nixon. His stamp is absolutely indelibly printed on the way things are now. Some of his cronies stayed active until just last year. We have inherited their country, their vision, their violence, their hatred, and their greed. It is their country.

C. Corax said...

It blows my mind how much virulent hatred has been unleashed across this country because a man whose father was black got elected POTUS.

Gail Hornstein, author of Agnes's Jacket, remarked at a reading that racism is considered a mental illness in England. Here, we elect racists to office and hire them as news analysts.

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