Principalities & Powers

Comrade King?

Twenty years have come and gone since Congress passed, and President Reagan signed into law, a bill creating a federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and, in those years, the holiday has become little more than yet another session in the perennial ritual of mass production and consumption that American public festivals generally celebrate.  Nevertheless, unlike most other holidays, King Day continues to elicit a round of opinion pieces, editorials, and commentary about the “true” meaning of both the day and the man after whom it is named.  If even half the ink spilled in the worship of “Dr.” King were spent pondering the meaning of Christmas and Independence Day, we would be, at once, the most pious and the most patriotic people on the planet.

One effect of King Day has been to mute King’s radicalism and to absorb him and his outlandish beliefs into the imagery of the harmless hero of the segregated lunch-counter and voters’ registration marches.  As NAACP boss Julian Bond said about King on Meet the Press in 1998, “He’s frozen in 1963 at the march on Washington, sort of the gifted preacher who had a dream.”  But

the real legacy [of King] goes well beyond that, all the way up to the date of his death, and it’s the legacy of a man who really was a revolutionary figure, who was a critic of American capitalism, who was a...

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