Seattle high school teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian is suing the city for $500,000 after police fired pepper spray at him as he walked past officers at a Martin Luther King Day rally. In video of the incident obtained and released by the NAACP, it appears Hagopian and other bystanders were sprayed by officers unprovoked.
In the fall of 1964, the New York Herald Tribune ran a story with the headline, "FBI Chief Calls Martin Luther King 'The Most Notorious Liar in Country.'" J. Edgar Hoover, then the director of the FBI, had found himself on the defense after King, perhaps the most prominent civil rights activist of the 1950s and 60s, accused the bureau of not enforcing civil rights law and using Jim Crow-era tactics to suppress blacks. Hoover's real reasoning for labeling King a "notorious liar," however, was based on information he and few others were privy to: the details of King's sex life.
Martin King—he hasn't used the "Dr." or "Luther" or "Jr." for decades now—is living proof that even legends can get tired of being legendary. Pacing his spartan office at MSNBC's studios at Rockefeller Center on a dreary Wednesday in mid-January, King is pecking a text message back to his daughter about dinner plans tonight. It is King's 85th birthday and his family and friends are holding a party at the forever popular Sylvia's in Harlem, but his first priority is his new 8 p.m. show on MSNBC.
Remember Martin Luther King, Jr., the oppressed Southern black man, the freedom fighter, the peacenik, who called for radical progressive civil rights and economic justice legislation, and who was smeared as a Communist? Today, pundits would like to remind you that he was, of course, a "conservative."
Here's a mash-up of some of the songs that have incorporated MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech either by referencing Dr. King's iconic words or by sampling the speech itself.
Half a century ago, heroes like Martin Luther X and Rose Park risked their lives by marching on top of lunch counters so that kids of all races would one day have the right to catch a few "Z's" in class while the teacher showed a filmstrip of the "I Have a Dream" speech. And how do kids these days repay those civil rights heroes? By not knowing a damn thing about them.
The story we're about to bring you is sad on so many levels. Well, two levels. First, it illustrates the disappointing and kind of disgusting decline of a legendary civil rights institution, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), former home of Martin Luther King, Jr. Second, it shows what a farce half of the things you see on editorial pages are, if they come from public figures. We'll give you a condensed version of this ongoing media vs. advocacy group vs. PR firm controversy-as you read it, ask yourself whether MLK would have found himself caught up in this crap. Charles Steele, Jr., president of the SCLC, wrote an editorial which ran in several southern newspapers. The editorial was against upcoming legislation that would limit credit card fees-a bill favored by retailers (which would save money) but not by credit card companies (which would lose money in fees). Here's the problem: Steele didn't write the editorial. A PR firm working for the credit card companies contracted a third party to write it, and it somehow got submitted to the papers without getting approved by Steele. Fucked up, right? It's obviously a huge mistake by the PR firm. It makes the papers look foolish for running an editorial that the "author" hadn't even seen. And, of course, nobody wants to wake up one day and read something in the paper with their name on it that they've never seen. But Steele and the SCLC aren't heroic in this. Check out their main complaint:
Not only is today the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination; as both news stories and commenters have pointed out, it's the 41st anniversary of his historic speech opposing the Vietnam War. That speech was groundbreaking in the truest sense; there was bitter division within the civil rights movement over whether King should take on the war at all. Many felt it would distract from his core goal of racial equality. "And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened," King said. "For such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live." Below, you can listen to his entire speech. It's long. But there's nobody alive in modern day America who can make such a plea with equivalent effect, despite our need for one now. And that's the end of the serious items for the week.
Today, you must have heard, is the 40th anniversary of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. He was shot to death while standing on the balcony of a Memphis hotel at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968. The night before, he had given his last speech—the prophetic "I've been to the Mountaintop" sermon—in which he told the crowd, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now." King was tired, and had to be specially cajoled to go to the church that night; he ended up delivering his own eulogy. Considering the circumstances, it was his most moving speech of all. Were he alive today, King would be nearing his 80th birthday. A full clip of the speech is below. Have we reached the promised land yet?