Reality Check for Democrats: Would Martin Luther King Be Supporting Bernie?

Civil Rights leader was a harsh critic of capitalism.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Jeff Cohen

Emphasis Mine

Corporate mainstream media have sanitized and distorted the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., putting him in the category of a “civil rights leader” who focused narrowly on racial discrimination; end of story.

Missing from the story is that Dr. King was also a tough-minded critic of our capitalist economic structure, much like Bernie Sanders is today.

The reality is that King himself supported democratic socialism – and that civil rights activists and socialists have walked arm-in-arm for more than a century.

The same news outlets that omit such facts keep telling us that the mass of African American voters in South Carolina and elsewhere are diehard devotees of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton – implying that blacks are somehow wary of Bernie Sanders and his “democratic socialism.”

Here are some key historical facts and quotes that get almost no attention in mainstream media:

1909:  Many socialists – both blacks and whites – were involved in forming the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), our country’s oldest civil rights group.  Among them was renowned black intellectual W.E.B. Dubois.

1925:  Prominent African American socialist A. Philip Randolph became the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that played a major role in activism for civil and economic rights (including the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”).

1952:  In a fascinating letter to Coretta Scott, the woman he would marry a year later, Martin King wrote: “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. . . . Today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”

1965:  King wrote an essay in Pageant magazine, “The Bravest Man I Ever Knew,” extolling Norman Thomas as “America’s foremost socialist” and favorably quoting a black activist who said of Thomas: “He was for us before any other white folks were.”

1965:  After passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King became even more vocal about economic rights: “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

1965-66:  King supported President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” but urged more – calling for a “gigantic Marshall Plan” for our naton’s poor of all races.

1966:  In remarks to staffers at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King said:

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. . . . It really means that we are saying something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

March 1967:  King commented to SCLC’s board that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”

April 1967:  In his speech denouncing the U.S. war in Vietnam at New York’s Riverside Church, King extended his economic critique abroad, 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.”

May 1967:  In a report to SCLC’s staff, King said:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power . . . this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together . . . you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others the whole structure of American life must be changed.”

August 1967:  In his final speech to an SCLC convention, King declared:

“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’”

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 as he and SCLC were mobilizing a multiracial army of the poor to descend nonviolently on Washington D.C. demanding a “Poor Peoples Bill of Rights.” He told a New York Times reporter that “you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.”

A year before he was murdered, King said the following to journalist David Halberstam: “For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

Unlike what Hillary Clinton professes today, Dr. King came to reject the idea of slow, incremental change.  He thought big.  He proposed solutions that could really solve social problems.

Unlike corporate-dominated U.S. media, King was not at all afraid of democratic socialism.  Other eminent African American leaders have been unafraid. Perhaps it’s historically fitting that former NAACP president Ben Jealous has recently campaigned for Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.

If mainstream journalists did more reporting on the candidates’ actual records, instead of crystal-ball gazing about the alleged hold that the Clintons have over African American voters, news consumers would know about the deplorable record of racially-biased incarceration and economic hardship brought on by Clinton administration policies. (See Michelle Alexander’s “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.”)

With income inequality even greater now than during Martin Luther King’s final years, is there much doubt that King would be supporting the progressive domestic agenda of Bernie Sanders?

Before Bernie was making these kinds of big economic reform proposals, King was making them – but mainstream media didn’t want to hear them at the time . . . or now.

Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, cofounder of the online activism group – and founder of the media watch group FAIR, which defended  Gary Webb against the backlash.


W. E. B. Du Bois to Malcolm X: The Untold History of the Movement to Ban the Bomb

corettascottking_dagmar-wilson-womenstrikeSource: Portside

Author:Vincent J. Intondi

Emphasis Mine

In the wake of the Charleston massacre and 70 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a scholar argues it is important the textbooks reflect the historic role of African American civil rights leaders as advocates for peace and strong opponents of nuclear weapons. The scarring of war, poverty, and racism that Malcolm X spoke of continues to this day, and the history books should reflect how Black activism has challenged these deadly triplets. –

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, the media attacked him for straying outside of his civil rights mandate. In so many words, powerful interests told him: “Mind your own business.” In fact, African American leaders have long been concerned with broad issues of peace and justice—and have especially opposed nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this activism is left out of mainstream corporate-produced history textbooks.

On June 6, 1964, three Japanese writers and a group of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) arrived in Harlem as part of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study Mission. Their mission: to speak out against nuclear proliferation.

Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American activist, organized a reception for the hibakusha at her home in the Harlem Manhattanville Housing Projects, with her friend Malcolm X. Malcolm said, “You have been scarred by the atom bomb. You just saw that we have also been scarred. The bomb that hit us was racism.” He went on to discuss his years in prison, education, and Asian history. Turning to Vietnam, Malcolm said, “If America sends troops to Vietnam, you progressives should protest.” He argued that “the struggle of Vietnam is the struggle of the whole Third World: the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism.” Malcolm X, like so many before him, consistently connected colonialism, peace, and the Black freedom struggle. Yet, students have rarely heard this story.

With the recent developments in Charleston surrounding the Confederate flag, there is a renewed focus on what should be included in U.S. history textbooks and who should determine the content. Focusing on African American history, too often textbooks reduce the Black freedom movement to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. Rosa Parks and Dr. King are put in their neat categorical boxes and students are never taught the Black freedom struggle’s international dimensions, viewing slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement as purely domestic phenomena unrelated to foreign affairs. However, Malcolm X joined a long list of African Americans who, from 1945 onward, actively supported nuclear disarmament. W. E. B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black Panther Party were just a few of the many African Americans who combined civil rights with peace, and thus broadened the Black freedom movement and helped define it in terms of global human rights.

If students learn about Du Bois at all, it is usually that he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or that he received a PhD from Harvard. However, a few weeks after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Du Bois likened President Truman to Adolph Hitler, calling him “one of the greatest killers of our day.” He had traveled to Japan and consistently criticized the use of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s, fearing another Hiroshima in Korea, Du Bois led the effort in the Black community to eliminate nuclear weapons with the “Ban the Bomb” petition. Many students go through their entire academic careers and learn nothing of Du Bois’ work in the international arena.

If students ever hear the name Bayard Rustin, it is usually related to his work with the March on Washington. He has been tragically marginalized in U.S. history textbooks, in large part because of his homosexuality. However, Rustin’s body of work in civil rights and peace activism dates back to the 1930s. In 1959, during the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin not only fought institutional racism in the United States, but also traveled to Ghana to try to prevent France from testing its first nuclear weapon in Africa.

These days, some textbooks acknowledge Dr. King’s critique of the Vietnam War. However, King’s actions against nuclear weapons began a full decade earlier in the late 1950s. From 1957 until his death, through speeches, sermons, interviews, and marches, King consistently protested the use of nuclear weapons and war. King called for an end to nuclear testing asking, “What will be the ultimate value of having established social justice in a context where all people, Negro and White, are merely free to face destruction by Strontium-90 or atomic war?” Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, King called on the government to take some of the billions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons and use those funds to increase teachers’ salaries and build much needed schools in impoverished communities. Two years later, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, King argued the spiritual and moral lag in our society was due to three problems: racial injustice, poverty, and war. He warned that in the nuclear age, society must eliminate racism or risk annihilation.

Dr. King’s wife largely inspired his antinuclear stance. Coretta Scott King began her activism as a student at Antioch College. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, King worked with various peace organizations, and along with a group of female activists, began pressuring President Kennedy for a nuclear test ban. In 1962, Coretta King served as a delegate for Women Strike for Peace at a disarmament conference in Geneva that was part of a worldwide effort to push for a nuclear test ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. Upon her return, King spoke at AME church in Chicago, saying: “We are on the brink of destroying ourselves through nuclear warfare . . . . The Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement must work together ultimately because peace and civil rights are part of the same problem.”

Soon, we will commemorate the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not long after comes the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Students will then return to school and to their history textbooks. However, most will not learn how these issues are connected. They will not learn of all those in the Civil Rights Movement who simultaneously fought for peace. But this must change, and soon. The scarring of war and poverty and racism that Malcolm X spoke of continues. It’s time that students learn about the long history of activism that has challenged these deadly triplets.

[Vincent J. Intondi is an associate professor of history at Montgomery College and director of research for American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. He is the author of African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement (Stanford University Press, 2015).This article is part of the Zinn Education Project’s If We Knew Our History series.]

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Will Ferguson be a moment or a movement?

Source: Washington Post

Author: Fredrick Harris

(Fredrick Harris is a professor of political science and the director of the Center on African American Politics and Society at Columbia University. He is the author of “The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics.”)

Emphasis Mine


When does a moment become a movement?

Events such as the killing of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., can provide the moral shock that political movements need to build their ranks and bring attention to a community’s afflictions. They can be like the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 or the beating death of Matthew Shepard in 1998 — transformative episodes that remake perceptions and force a society to abandon abhorrent practices.

Or they can be like the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers: a horrific moment that failed to create a sustained push for broader, nationwide reforms of policing practices.

For black Americans, the outrage against the police that we’re seeing in Ferguson has appeared in roughly 10-year intervals — from the 1979 beating death of Arthur McDuffie by police, which sparked protest and violence in Miami; to the attack on King, which led to more than 50 deaths and several days of unrest in Los Angeles; to the 2001 shooting death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati, which also erupted in protest and rioting and produced a costly economic boycott against the city.

I’m optimistic that Ferguson can lead to real change. The church rallies, street demonstrations, marches, looting and targeted violence against police are familiar responses. But there are four key differences in what is unfolding in Ferguson: first, the cumulative effect of recent cases of police misconduct against black people across the nation; second, a backlash against rhetoric that blames poor black youth for the way they are treated by police; third, the use of innovative protest tactics; and finally, the support of allies beyond the black communities that are demanding justice for Brown and reforms in policing.

It’s happening again and again

Ferguson reflects the changing mood in black America, and the realization that police misconduct is not isolated to particular communities but is a nationwide crisis. Since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by self-described neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012, a series of killings of unarmed black youths by police and vigilantes has brought black frustration to the boiling point.

So perhaps America was due for another bout of unrest. But will Ferguson recede in the coming days and weeks, becoming the scene of just another tragic slaying that didn’t lead to meaningful change in police conduct toward black or brown communities? Will history remember Michael Brown less like Emmett Till and more like Rodney King?

Last September, 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell was gunned down by a white police officer in Charlotte while looking for help after a car crash. The following month, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was shot to death in Dearborn Heights, Mich., by a white man who assumed that the teen was attempting to break into his home and fired at her from behind a locked screen door. She was also seeking help after a car crash.

The outcome of the February 2014 trial of Michael Dunn, a white man who killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis during an argument over loud music in Jacksonville, Fla., angered many black Americans who thought that Dunn should have been convicted for Davis’s death rather than for the attempted murder of the three survivors of the shooting.

And about three weeks before Brown’s killing in Ferguson, 43-year-old Eric Garner died from a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y., after telling the arresting officers that he could not breathe.

Police misconduct has often been treated as a local matter. But the cumulative effect of these and other events points to a national challenge, and it is only deepening black mistrust of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Putting blame where it belongs

There is a widespread belief among white Americans, as well as many black ones, that the hairstyles, clothing, music and speech of poor and working-class black youths are the causes of aggressive police reactions — basically, that the kids are asking for it. This belief reflects a long-standing tradition of respectability politics, in which black progress against poverty and discrimination must flow from black people behaving differently, better.

In a nationwide 2008 poll by ABC News and Columbia University’s Center on African American Politics and Society, 44 percent of black Americans said they believed that the reason African Americans faced difficulty moving ahead was because they lacked individual initiative. Thirty-seven percent said that the lack of black progress was caused by racism in society.

This divide mirrors the lack of consensus among African Americans about how to deal with racist police practices. Either keep your head down at all times in public to avoid run-ins with police officers — or with white people more generally — or demand that you be treated as equals under the law, just like anyone else, without needing to strive for some flawless ideal

In the wake of Ferguson, many black and white Americans alike have awakened to the idea that a lack of respectability is not the problem; the problem is policing practices in black and brown communities. In Brown’s case, the allegation of his role in a “strong arm” robbery before his encounter with officer Darren Wilson has not defused protest. Indeed, the accusations heightened residents’ anger, because many fail to see a connection between the alleged robbery and Brown’s shooting, especially since Wilson had no knowledge of Brown’s potential involvement at the time of the shooting. Blame is falling where it belongs — on the officer for his aggressive policing, not on Brown for being less than superhuman.

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, appointed by the governor to oversee security in Ferguson, has eloquently challenged the notion that black youths’ appearance says something about their propensity toward crime. “When this is over,” he told a church audience, “I am going to go in my son’s room. My black son. Who wears his pants sagging. Wears his hat cocked to the side. Got his tattoos on his arm. But that’s my baby.”

Such arguments reflect reality: Embracing respectability does not provide a shield against police misconduct. The stellar credentials of Ferrell, a former Florida A&M University student with a 3.7 GPA who was working his way back to college, did not protect him from being shot down by police. Nor did the professional status of Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore prevent her from being manhandled by a police officer, who wrestled her to the ground after she politely asked why she was being stopped for jaywalking and treated disrespectfully.

While the streets of Ferguson have been the scene of protest and confrontation, social media — in particular “Black Twitter” — has emerged as a powerful forum for activism and debate regarding Ferguson, helping sway public opinion by challenging racially biased interpretations of Brown’s killing. For example, black people on Twitter and Facebook have posted images of themselves in formal clothes alongside pictures of themselves in informal attire, asking whether they deserved to be under suspicion because of the way they were dressed. They have posted individual and group photos with their hands raised in a gesture of surrender — as witnesses reported Brown did when he was shot — with hashtags such as #HandsUpDontShoot and #blacklivesmatter. And they have used social media to coordinate vigils for Brown and other victims of police brutality, to organize rallies across the country, and to post links to live-streaming sites that show the Ferguson protests in real time.

With Ferguson more than ever before, social media has become the game-changer of black activism, filling the void left by the weakening of traditional civil rights leaders and organizations that used to play a vital role in interpreting events for the black community, but now have less credibility in that community than they did a generation ago.

Channeling anger into reform

Increased anger and distrust, shifting perceptions of blame, and new protest techniques will go only so far. If Brown’s death is to lead to a true movement, it must transcend the street unrest and hashtag angst that too often stand in for political organizing.

To succeed, movements require strong organization and coordination. The kinetic energy from protests in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the District and elsewhere needs to be harnessed to build local organizations aimed at combating police brutality. Local activism, in turn, should be linked to regional and national efforts and protest campaigns such as the Dream Defenders in Florida and the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and Georgia . This is how numbers and influence grow.

A movement will also need allies beyond black communities, such as immigration reformers and LGBT groups, whose constituencies are also affected by police brutality. And in the best tradition of the civil rights movement, allies should be sought abroad. Highlighting human rights abuses in the United States on the world stage — as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. did during the Cold War — will put more pressure on America to live up to its professed ideals of freedom and equality.

Lastly, movements require patience and persistence. Once the marching stops and the cameras leave Ferguson, the grinding work of organizing will have to take hold. The 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott lasted a year until victory was declared, and congressional legislation banning racial discrimination in public accommodations and voting did not pass until a decade later. It took 17 years for LGBT activists to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Change does not come overnight.

Taking the fight online

What may keep Ferguson from becoming a national transformative event is if “justice” is narrowly confined to seeking relief for Brown and his family. If the focus is solely on the need for formal charges against Wilson, a fair trial, a conviction, a wrongful-death lawsuit — rather than seeing those things as part of a broader movement that tackles stand-your-ground laws, the militarization of local police, a requirement that cameras be worn by police on duty and the need for a comprehensive federal racial-profiling law. If justice remains solely personal, rather than universal.

Some believed that the beating of Rodney King and the riots that followed would lead to improved policing in black communities. But energy went toward rebuilding, not reforming. Ferguson presents an opportunity to pursue a different course. Let’s turn this tragedy into a tipping point.