Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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