Martin Luther King, Jr. and the War without Violence

Martin Luther King and America's major civil rights leaders fought an integrated and nonviolent war against racial segregation.  Their affirmation of "beloved community" emphasized their Christian notions of love being stronger than hate.  Remembering MLK is important in 2019 – especially in a society like ours, where the race card is deployed with such raw cynicism that it is killing people of all colors needlessly.  Radical Jacobin activists and scholars are deliberately misrepresenting King in an effort to instigate tremendous political damage to the United States.  MLK day ought to be a time to accurately remember who he was and attempt to repel the false hagiography that continues to recast King as a communist angry militant or a soft, anemic anachronism.  King was a great American leader true to the civic character of a nation that has done more to unite humanity beyond ethnic lines than any other nation present or past. 

It is hardly surprising that a Chinese architect hired to depict King on our National Mall misrepresented him with his arms defiantly crossed and an inaccurate quotation strongly implying a militant stance more common to the young Malcolm X: "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness."  The American Civil Rights movement was both successful, strong and effective. King did not take a casual cooperative view of communism as supposed by his original critics or his contemporary revisionists.  In 1966, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, King explained his view of the important topic:

And if a man has not discovered something that he would die for, he isn't fit to live.  The nonviolent method says that there is power in this approach precisely because it has a way of disarming the opponent and exposing his moral defenses.  Secondly, it is possible to work to secure moral ends through moral means.  One of the great debates of history has been on the whole.  I guess with the many philosophical differences I have with communism, one of the greatest is found right here.  Communism says in the final analysis that any method is proper to bring about the goal of the classless society.  This is where nonviolence would break with communism or any other system which argues that the end justifies the means.  For we recognize that the end is pre-existent in the means.  The means represents the ideal in the end in process.  And in the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

King not only understood American idealism, but understood at a profound level how cynicism cannot bring reform or human improvement.  One of the most central and famous contentions of his hallmark speech, "I Have a Dream," contended that we should be aiming for a culture that judges people on the basis of the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  Our current social machinations intoning terms of "white privilege" and senatorial genetic testing to prove our political superiority in America is a profound attack upon King's dream.  Those attacks are largely unrepentant among a growing cadre of Afro-pessimist scholars who view King's dream as the same "farce" that Malcolm X said it was in 1963.

Remembering King should be about reclaiming his moral standing to define the standards of racial justice in 2019.  The Jacobins who seized the movement in his absence have defied his integrated view of America that he explained in Dallas in 1966:

And so if one is working for a just society, he should use just methods in bringing about that society.  If one is working for the goal of an integrated society, then he must seek to work with integration as a fact as he moves toward that.  This is why I've always insisted that in our demonstrations and in our work, it isn't enough to have Negroes participating, but it is necessary to have white persons participating. ...

There's another thing about this method.  When it is true to its nature, it says that it is possible to live true to the love effort.  In other words, the love effort stands at the center.  Now I want you to understand me here when I speak about love.  People ask me all the time, what in the world are you talking about?  You certainly can't be telling us to love these people who are oppressing us and who are killing our children and who are bombing our churches.  And I always have to stop and try to explain what I mean when I talk about love in this context.

I'm not talking about emotional bonds.  I'm not talking about some sentimental or affectionate feeling.  And I think it would be nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. ... When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does the evil deed by hating the deed the person does.  I think this is what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies.  And I'm so happy he didn't say to like your enemies.  I must confess that there are some people pretty difficult to like.  But Jesus said love them, and love is greater than like.  Love is understanding, creative goodwill for all men – when you stand up against the evil system and yet understand the perpetrator of that evil system.

King theologically believed in an integrated society and that stands, as a challenge to our re-segregationist impulses to judge all people on the basis of race.  Moreover, the transcendent practice of love stands in contrast to our angry discourse pervading all of our political conversations.  Love as a political practice is largely unknown in 21st-century politics, as we have grown more secular and selfish. 

In our present time, the remembrance of King can be accomplished by challenging the cynical reactionary use of the term "racist."  Our intellectual culture views the term "racist" as a political tool for enforcing blue privilege and attacking Republican political leadership in defense of Democratic political leadership.  President Trump is falsely said to be in alliance with the KKK, white supremacists, and white nationalists.  The use of this language by the media elevates these groups and gives them power.  Pretending to see an alliance legitimizes those who would never have such a platform.  Covering up profound racism in the Democratic Party as seen by President Woodrow Wilson, President Franklin Roosevelt, and even Hillary Clinton only reduces the real problem of racism to a political tool.

King sought to redeem his most hardened racist adversaries.  Today's political leaders seek character assassination through the charge of racism.  This is neither fitting nor honoring to King.  This holiday must become a true honor to a leader who deserves this much from us.

Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs and director of speech and debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  He has published three academic books about debate, including James Farmer Jr.: The Great Debater, about one of the four major Civil Rights leaders who worked alongside King and created the nonviolent direct action techniques used by the movement.