I watched the HBO documentary King in the Wilderness last night. It was a first person account of the last year of MLK’s life from those in his inner-circle who are still alive.
A dozen years removed from his entrance onto the national stage with his leadership during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and just a few years since the historic I Have a Dream speech and the landmark Civil Rights legislation that followed in 1963 and 1964, the film shows a conflicted King who was dealing with an ever changing social, political, economic and racial landscape in America in 1967. Some of the major issues that he was facing were:
- Rioting and unrest that was sweeping across some of the nation’s urban centers (i.e. Watts)
- A call to expand the reach of The Movement beyond the South to places like Chicago (Fair Housing)
- The emergence of Black Power and a departure from the non-violent stance from within his own ranks being led by Stokely Carmichael
- Pressure for him to speak out against the Vietnam War
- The development of the Poor People’s Campaign
In a speech given at Riverside Church in New York City exactly one year before his assassination, King spoke out against the Vietnam War and in doing so, spoke some prophetic words that are just as relevant today than they were 50 years ago.
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. . . . When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
He realized that what he had been fighting for the past decade was a symptom of a much greater ill and as a result he became bolder and more resolute in his stance in trying to transform our country and the world at-large against this malady with his ever faithful and trusty sidearm – love.
This stance was extremely unpopular and he lost support and alienated many who were close to him in the struggle for Civil Rights. King was now interested in winning the war as he saw it laid our before him, not in just simply winning the battle for Civil Rights for black people.
Many entrenched in the Civil Rights battle were not willing to cede any resources to other battle fronts and as a result ostracized King for his willingness to expand the battle beyond black folks own backyard.
This hurt him to the core, but the one thing that gave him energy was the Poor People’s Campaign, which he didn’t live to see through.
The lesson in this for America 50 years later is that we are still majoring in the minors by fighting individual battles while turning a blind eye to the entire landscape and the underlying factors that are constantly coalescing coordinating and conspiring against us all. The troops are being marshaled against one another instead of against the true enemy – extreme materialism, militarism and racism.
The question for us now is the same one that King asked half a century ago – Where Do We Go From Here?