“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hundreds of people attended a commemoration celebrating and reflecting upon the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today at his church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta. Both Ebenezer and the house where Dr. King was born are located on Auburn Avenue, less than a mile away from where I now reside. Many poor people of color walk past the decaying buildings on Auburn Ave daily, and its conditions are a reminder of the life and lessons of the historical figure whose humble origins began here.
It is clear that we are far from the promised land that King dreamed of. What is interesting though, is how relevant all of King’s messages are today, especially the work he was doing in the later years of his life.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that King was murdered just as he began to transform his message into that of a class analysis that aligned the plight of Black folks in America with all poor people in the US and around the world. The message of civil rights was turning into a message of economic rights, and that is extremely threatening to the corporate interests that dominate policy in this country, both in 1968 and in 2008. Malcolm X, although ideologically different from King in his earlier years, was coming to this same conclusion when he was murdered in 1965. The difference is that he was not able to transfer his analysis into concrete action before he was killed. King on the other hand, was putting his words into practice. In the months before his April 4, 1968 murder, Dr. King was preparing for The Poor People’s Campaign, a populist protest planned for Washington, DC to push the federal government to eliminate poverty from ‘the hollows of Appalachia to the ghetto of Harlem.’ When assassinated, Martin King was in Memphis, TN helping striking trash workers.
In our capitalist system, many solutions to the problems we face as a society are economic ones. We are still dreaming of a better future, Dr. King, and the work to get there carries on.