Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why was Martin Luther King, Jr. murdered?  Some of you may have read the transcripts and/or the summary of the 1999 trial brought forward by Dr. King’s family and under-reported by the media in which it was proven that “Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government.”  Did you skim over that? Read that again — Dr. King was assassinated at the hand of “*his own government.* While I won’t go into details here of the links to the U.S. government (you may read the summary by Jim Douglas here), I would like to explore with you why Dr. King was a threat to the violent power structure.

It is burned into our collective memory that Dr. King was killed because of racism – this is not true.  He was killed because of classism.  Money.  Yes, it is true, very true, that in the U.S., race has been used as a dividing line. This racism floods across the globe. But the division by race and the exacerbation of racism  has been perpetuated specifically for financial gain.

The first and enduring financial gain was through enslaving people. Enslaving people is easier to reconcile with one’s one morality when one adopts the mantra of racism — that a “different” person is the “other” or “lesser” or somehow doesn’t know any better. But, importantly, slavery doesn’t exist because of racial differences, it exists for financial or personal gain of a powerful few. Even though slavery has been pushed to the shadows, there are more slaves on the planet now than in any time in history.

Exploiters then moved on to exploiting a working class often perpetuated by racism (and extending to sexism).  All the while, race was used as a distraction – to keep the working classes fighting each other rather than joining hands and casting a questioning eye to the mansion on the hill.

Dr. King was pulling back the curtain, exposing the manipulators.  He was assassinated one year to the day after speaking out against the war on Vietnam.  His speech (and his outspoken stance in the year preceding his death) shone a light on the war – showing us that it was racist and classist – sending poor people to kill poor people.

But King wasn’t killed because he was calling the Vietnam war unjust; and it wasn’t that he was appalled by the obvious violence of war, which he was. He was killed because he was drawing attention to the fact that war was diverting money (again) to the rich while stealing from the poor. Money was being taken from poor people’s future, from their education, from their communities, even from their food stores. The programs that could lift a people were instead being starved to feed the war machine and those who profit from war and waste. King was weeks away from launching what he called the next phase of the civil rights movement — The Poor People’s Campaign — from which he would call for economic justice for the poor and disenfranchised.

Speaking out against economic injustice is a dangerous thing, especially in a plutocracy (a government owned and manipulated by the wealthy — as is the case in the U.S.). But beyond just speaking out (as many of us do), King was actually being *heard*.  Unlike many of us, King was poised to make a monumental difference. He was unleashing the potential for a complete paradigm shift away from trickle-up or smash-and-grab economics — this was too much for the “powers that be” to risk.

Dr. King had become dangerous to greedy, unethical profiteers (starting with war profiteers) and the cultural elite because he was pointing to the mansion on the hill… and people were beginning to stop what they were doing and look to where he was pointing.

Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon described it better than I can…

“… 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 restructuring.”

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. Life 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 people.”

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.”

When I do speaking engagements, I often ask how many believe that giant corporations, that is uber-rich, have too much control over government and over our lives.  Almost every hand in the auditoriums goes up.  We understand that things are out of control.  “Why do these corporations have so much power?” I ask.  “Because they have all the money!” comes the resounding reply.  That’s right, they can buy politicians, they can buy policy, they can buy countries, they can even buy us (it’s called advertising… and it works). “And where do they get all the money?”… A hush of recognition and a bit of squirming in the seats.  I draw the pointing finger back to myself, “Us,” I say and the audience nods solemnly.

This is one of the challenges of Nonviolence – to recognize the role we, ourselves, play in the violence and oppression and then to do what it takes to stop playing along.  Every dollar is a vote, whether you spend it or you don’t.  Give ONLY to those who support your values.  This is how we’ll build a society reflective of our values.  It starts with you.

Thank you for being part of this revolution.  And thank you for all that you do.

🙂 m