NOTE: As I articulate the Spiritual Nature of the King Years – Part II, I am aware that I may offend some of my brethren who believe that discussions of race are superfluous in the Church. However, I humbly submit that one cannot properly understand the profound, prophetic nature of the King Years, even 40 years later, without examining his work through the telescope of race. It is not my intention to fan the smoldering cinders of racial animosity that may remain in our society; however, in order to properly understand the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must understand that race was simply the cloak that was brandished by his distracters to camouflage the larger meaning of his ministry. To those who I may offend, both white and colored, please know that I am simply making an observation about the cruel world that we live in, and lament over our inability and refusal to create a color-blind society.
“This is Gettysburg. This is where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg. Men died right here on this field, fightin' the same fight that we're still fightin' amongst ourselves...today (Coach Boone, Remember the Titans).”
I grew up during the period of black awareness in the 1960s and 1970s when black Americans began to witness the results of the long struggle for racial equality. On the one hand, black men and women were enrolling into schools of higher learning at unprecedented levels and holding positions of authority that were unheard of just ten years earlier. However, on the other hand, there was this faction that firmly held that black people needed to become more self-aware of their heritage as descendants of the African continent. And from this mode of thinking emerged the Black Power Movement — a loosely knit group who attempted to nationalize black culture in the United States.
The Black Power Movement’s intentions may have been pure; however, they did not understand that while white-America was reluctantly prepared to remove social barriers to full rights and privileges for blacks, the United States was not ready to integrate black, African culture into America’s European society. Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam War immediately comes to mind. After the United States charged him with draft evasion, he was stripped of his heavyweight championship and was prohibited from fighting for the next three years. Although Ali’s stand against the war had less to do with the Black Power Movement, he was linked with the movement because of his association with the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad, which at the time was viewed as an anti-American, religious organization. Ali was eventually vindicated in his stand by the Supreme Court, which ruled that he had a constitutional right to refuse entry into the military on conscientious objections.
Another courageous act of self immolation was Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos: While standing on the podium in the 1968 Mexican Olympic Games to receive the gold medal and bronze for the 200 meter race, they both bowed their heads and raised their fists in silent protest regarding the injustice that many black Americans faced. There was such outrage to this non-violent symbol of black power that they were stripped of their medals, suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village.
I have often heard promoters of the Black Power Movement and Black Nationalism in a chest-thumping frenzy say, “The white man is afraid of the black man, because we have the power to genetically destroy him.” We can argue the merits of this misguided statement; nevertheless, one thing is for sure, the cadre of men who control the launch codes for more than 50,000 nuclear weapons is not frightened by a black man or his penis. However, there is one type of man that threatens all evil men in power, and this man transcends race, creed and color:
He is the man that has no desire for earthly possessions, has no fear of death, opposes the injustice that he witnesses, and walks in sync with the God who created the Heavens and the earth.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became a threat to those men in power in America, not because he led a successful struggle for civil rights, but because his platform evolved into a struggle against global atrocities. His leadership began to unite other voices of dissent in America at a time when the country was embroiled in a questionable military campaign in Vietnam. The anti-war movement, the labor movement and the Civil Rights Movement began to coalesce under the leadership of Dr. King, and for the first time in history, there was a unified hybrid of voices in this country that opposed America’s foreign policy.
As long as Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement protested America’s domestic policies that left black Americans on the fringes of society, the ruling class was silent. They saw the struggle for civil rights as a battle that was waged between Dr. King and the “Bull Connors” of the world. However, once his leadership exposed American hypocrisy on a global scale, he became a threat to the self interest of Western society; and for that, he was marked for assassination.
In a society where leisure trumps productivity and hard work, we’re swiftly losing the spiritual awareness that King personified. My friend Mike Way calls our generation, the “tail-gate” generation, where we are more interested in socializing over a barbeque grill and a beer than we are over what our politicians are doing on Capitol Hill. He laments over the fact that we have C-Spans 1, 2 and 3, which run 24 hours per day and provides us with a bird’s-eye-view of the legislation that is destroying our once great nation, yet people are more interested in the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, and the Olympics than they are in the destruction of America by our politicians. I share Mike’s sentiment.
Dr. King gave his life to save the soul of America; however, it has fallen upon us more than 40 years later to continue that struggle.
Postscript: In order to preserve the alacrity of this article, I have cut it short and will post Part III, which will discuss the level of threat that Dr. King posed to the ruling class in America.