Remembering Maximum Leader King

5 04 2008

As a teenager, I was a hanger-on with a small civil rights group in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio…the rest of the group was black folks in their twenties and thirties.  I helped them canvass neighborhoods and gather signatures for petitions, scaring the bejesus out of everybody when I vanished for a while in a particularly scary (even for them) part of town…but I’d knocked on the door of somebody who was listening to some very tasty jazz, and when I showed some appreciation, the guy had invited me in, offered me a beer and a cigarette (both of which I declined) and we were just grooving on the music together, and I lost track of time….but I digress….

“Maximum Leader King” was one of the names that members of the group (called Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality) had for Rev. King.  All that took place back in 1965-6, before Rev. King started talking about the wider context in which racism in America occurs.  Here’s Jeff Cohen’s appreciation of Rev. King’s true legacy:

King’s sermons on Vietnam could get as angry as those of Barack Obama’s ex-pastor: “God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war … We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world.” In 1967, King was also criticizing the economic underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy, railing against “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.” Today, capitalists of the West reap huge profits from their domination of media — in the U.S. and abroad.

Thankfully, we now have the Internet and independent media outlets where King’s later speeches are available for the ages.

If King had survived to hear the war drums beating for the invasion and occupation of Iraq — amplified by TV networks and the New York Times front page and Washington Post editorial page — there’s little doubt where he’d stand. Or how loudly he’d be speaking out.

And there’s little doubt how big media would have reacted. On Fox News and talk radio, King would have been Dixie Chicked … or Rev. Wrighted. In corporate centrist outlets, he’d have been marginalized faster than you can say Noam Chomsky.

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