Monday, January 19, 2015

The Forgotten King

The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Everyone knows that we are away from school today because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is commemorated by name with a national holiday. And just about every American alive is familiar with King's "I Have A Dream" speech.



However, as we wrap up the semester, we invite you to think about what you have previously learned about Dr. King when you were a younger student, in light of this particular speech. The subject of the talk was the Vietnam War, in an excerpt from a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, on April 30, 1967. During that very perilous time, consider the public response to his words back then:
...after giving the speech...King was dropped from Gallup’s annual list of the most admired Americans and was ridiculed by the New York Times, among too many others. Soon after, he was murdered (Robert Scheer, Truthdig.com).
As a kind of evidence, look closely at this 3-frame diagram of King's funeral photo which highlighted African-Americans using black dots, and whites, using red dots. Please click to enlarge the details.

"Life Magazine, April 19, 1968,” by Alfredo Jaar. (Copyright Alfredo Jaar)

Although the speech is over 20 minutes long, you are encouraged to listen to as much of it as you can (it's audio only). We know what amazing multitaskers you are. Press PLAY and have it on in the background as you message your friends and surf the net ;) Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Why is this post titled, "The Forgotten King"?
  2. Why don't we Americans celebrate this speech?
  3. How does it relate to our course themes?
  4. Can you make connections to today?

4 comments:

Rayna K said...

Wow, I had never hear of this speech before today. It definitely does not support the image of Dr. King that was told as a kid: that Dr. King always supported America. First and foremost, I believe this post is ironically titled "The Forgotten King" because Americans did not simply forget about this speech, they forced themselves to forget about this speech. This was clearly not an accident. Most Americans would like to remember King as a positive and powerful figure who only supported America. I would never think of King as an American "dissent"(which he suggests that more Americans should become to show their disapproval of the Vietnam War). Therefore, Americans do not celebrate this speech because King is arguing with the government. This reminds of the Timothy Treadwell documentary we saw in class. In the film, Treadwell too calls himself an "American dissent". He expressed his content with the American government and we discussed if he should be considered an American. I suppose the same thing could be said of King. In his speech he says, "It's a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent." Perhaps doctor King is not the rosy American our society today makes him out to be. Moreover, this speech reminded a lot of the "History Under Construction" article we discussed in class the other day. In it, Norton argues that the Florida Legislature is wrong because it does not teach the Constitution. Instead, it believes it is "less troubling to present young people with a rosy picture based on modern understandings". Florida is trying to avoid American history because the Constitution does not make American look good. In fact, it supports the continuation of slavery with the 3/5 law. This relates relates directly to the construction of our course. Our course is heavily centered around ideas of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and PIC. All of which do not paint America in a rosy way, but it is the truth. Throughout his speech, Dr. King emphasized telling the truth, which is what our course does, good or bad.

Spencer James said...

That's very interesting. I think that one of the reasons the government, which influences what schools teach, may not be promoting this speech is because it points out problems that America has not yet solved. While Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech focuses on racial issues, which have improved dramatically from the CRM era, this speech focuses brings up America's defense budget, which has certainly not improved much from the Vietnam war era.

In this speech, Dr. King says that America focuses "more on military defense than social uplift". He also pulls out the statistic that America "pays $5000 to kill each enemy soldier" in Vietnam, "while [spending] only $53 dollars to help each person classified as poor" here in the US. The government may not want to publicize this speech because the issues Dr. King points out are still a problem because of the war in the Middle East. Defense is still an extremely disproportionate chunk of the budget, especially when you consider that nobody at home directly benefits from all the money, and many innocent lives are ruined.

David Y. said...

I read the entire speech, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this speech makes Dr. Martin Luther King sound borderline communist. I think that's what made Gallup drop him from their list and what made the NY times turn on him. Americans don't celebrate this speech because of its communist nature and that's also why this is the forgotten Dr. King. America remembers Dr. King for his role in the Civil Rights Movement, but not for his borderline communist/anti government speech; the guys upstairs wouldn't allow it. Let it be clear that Dr. King is a great humanitarian and philosopher, but this speech was almost anti-American. He spends a great deal of time in this speech questioning the American system and American government, especially with respect to the poor. When he talks about wanting more money spent on the poor and wanting to look past social class, it just sounds a bit communist, and therefore un-American. He also questions America's values because of their involvement in the Vietnam war and the support they gave to a supposed dictator. The speech as a whole is a critique on America and makes America look bad. That's why Americans don't know/remember this speech. That's why this is the Forgotten King.
And since this is American Studies class, this is exactly the type of politics that we should be looking at. This article/speech is really about American values and what makes America, America.

Ellie L said...

The "forgoteness"- for lack of a better word- of this speech, and this aspect of Dr. King's character, prove to me that history is constructed. Our view of the past is a construction, and is largely based on bias and what people WANT to believe as opposed to fact. People want to- choose to- remember MLK for his marches, his "I Have a Dream" speech. Similarly, people want to forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a one-dimensional character. This speech about the Vietnam War goes against how people want to view MLK, so no one talks about it, no one learns about it. But why? Why do we today view historical events and people with such a closed mind? Why can't we learn all sides of an event or a person, and then discuss and interpret history? Then, is that even possible?