April 4, 2008

Forty Years On

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Forty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis, TN. Today thus marks one more skirmish in the battle over the legacy of Dr. King. Since the decisive victory in the struggle to get the King Day holiday in 1983 (when the federal law passed, although King Day was not recognized by all 50 states until 2000), the third Monday of January has generally been the focal point of that battle. And it's a time when a drastically Disneyfied version of his life and message dominate the culture.

The observation of Dr. King's assassination, while he was in Memphis supporting the struggle of Black sanitation workers, is a good time for us to brush off the soundbite cobwebs of "the content of his character" and remember King as a revolutionary. And a revolutionary not only in the objective role that he played, but in the conclusions he was drawing from the struggle, about the need to "get on the right side of the world revolution" and to conquer "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism."

Who claims King and to what end is actually the subject of a daily struggle in US society. Here is a small example, from the video for "Til We Get There" (two years old now) by M-1 (of Dead Prez) and featuring, as they say, K'naan and Stori James. The rap celebrates unity in the Black Nation and identifies it as a necessity on the long to freedom. It namechecks King in passing:

Took a page from the book of Martin Luther
And decided that it's better to hug ya than to shoot ya
I'm sorry homie if it's not what ya use ta
But the way that we livin' these black lives is beautiful
All the things we've been through and the tree we done bloomed
We probably family but we never knew

That's what's called solidarity
When we struggle it's therapy,
After chaos we get clarity

Oh, yeah!

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