“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Monday, January 19, 2015, the U.S. will celebrate Martin Luther King jr. This man who sang along with his Baptist church at the premiere of Gone With The Wind in 1939, is known as the most famous American Civil Rights leader in history. The Reverend and Doctor, Martin Luther King jr. is celebrated every January as a hero and an icon. What does he mean today, however, in a racially charged 2015? The truth is slippery and problematic, and so many other deserving names of our forefathers and foremothers have been lost in the distant sea of time.
The fact of the matter is Black History is stained with cases of plagiarism. Some theorize this was a natural response to an unwelcoming academic world. In the case of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the New York Times reported in 1990 that Clayborne Carson, the Stamford historian researching Dr. King’s papers found “a pattern of appropriation, of textual appropriation,” in his PhD dissertation. This discovery came right at the time secrets and truths began to become uncovered about the man and his sexual misdeeds.
Most of the shocking Sex scandal accusations were raised by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s also problematic leader. There are obviously exaggerated allegations of sex parties, adultery, and worse. A recently discovered uncensored letter from the FBI denounces MLK’s “evil playmates and… orgies.” Now, I believe people should have as much fun as they want, assuming everyone is a consenting adult. But King prided himself on being a spiritual leader, and this is contrary to what he preached.
The Civil Rights movement led by the Black Church in the 1960’s is problematic for me as a Pagan woman of color — for sure. Even within this public struggle for equality, first hand accounts often tell of women left to run the kitchen and the home. Who has to be in the kitchen, who has to be in the back of the bus… when the lower status positions are determined based on the color of one’s skin, or what is or isn’t hanging between their legs — we have a problem. Christianity, despite its doctrine, is not always the most welcoming of religions. Civil rights takes on a new character when viewed through the lens of continued religious intolerance. While Christianity is for many a uniting beacon, unfortunately it has been a weapon too, and for those who have been hurt, this is hard to ignore.
History is written by the winners, and anyone paying attention today can see that the Civil Rights struggle was not won after the 1963 March on Washington, and is still a struggle today. So what gets remembered will always continue to be spotty… I certainly never learned in grade school that this legend was possibly a Republican ??? Or that he and Coretta spent their wedding night in a funeral home. I’m not saying this man isn’t worthy of tribute, but let’s expand our knowledge and focus to include some of the other pioneers of Black History – Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston (Anthropologist and Folklorist), Stuart Hall (Godfather of Multiculturalism), and others. We all need a hero, I need a hero… I’m holding out for one, but maybe St. Martin just isn’t it.
Leader, Problem, Adulterer, or Icon, what do you think? I would love to hear your comments below. And remember don’t forget to share the problem (this post).