28 Jan 2022

King: Violence, Black Power, Black Lives Matter and the Real Prophet

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Black History, Bobby's World, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Martin Luther King, Race Relations
Though written before I was born, King (seemingly) directly addresses the America of 2022.
Read this book.

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
” (Amos 5.24)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
” (Micah 6.8)

Someone once said that we build monuments to the prophets in order to neuter their witness. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, said as much last year as she protested the misuse of her father’s name by whites in support for the status quo of injustice in America.

When I moved to Grenada, MS in 1997, when Talya was a mere two weeks old, I had no clue how central that itty bitty town was in the struggle for justice during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a town wracked with racial division and had not had an election in years. Lawsuits went to the Supreme Court several times. My racial education had begun already in New Orleans (and I had read a few books) but I was still dumb (blind!) as dirt. Ernest Hargrove, Pastor of the AME church, and others soon were lovingly educating me however.

In June 1966, James Meredith undertook a Freedom March down Highway 51 that passes through Grenada, Mississippi. He did not get far, just south of Hernando, on Hwy 51, he was shot. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Atlanta in a meeting with the staff of SCLC when the news of the shooting arrived. Initially, King says, the report was Meredith had died. Everyone in the room was furious. Soon reports came that Meredith was alive and in the hospital in Memphis. King decided they needed to go to Memphis visit James and finish his Freedom Walk. While King was visiting, a young man named Stokley Carmichael showed up. Carmichael would end up walking with King down Hwy 51 through Grenada then to Greenwood.

Along the way, King remembers, Carmichael began voicing his doubts about nonviolence and by the time they had made Grenada, had talked about “Black Power.” By the time they reached Greenwood, he was shouting “Black Power.”

In 1967 King reflected on this journey in his epic book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. King was not only a superb orator but he had a potent analytical mind. He explains to his readers (especially white ones) that Carmichael is/was not wrong. That’s right, Carmichael was not wrong. He understood at a gut level the frustration and rage, how could one not be raging angry in the face of such blatant evil while the majority culture turned a blind eye.

But King thought the rhetoric was unhelpful because white folks to quickly latch onto verbiage without understanding what was actually being said.

We fail to hear! Jesus bemoans this truth regularly.

So, King meticulously explains, to white readers, the why of the rhetoric and the legitimacy of the complaint. What King states reads as if it was written for 2020 and 2022.

The “Cry of Black Power,” did not suddenly drop “as if from Zeus.” But has a concrete historical birthing: not only the United States but Mississippi. He writes,

The state symbolizing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers is still a popular pastime. In that state more than forty Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over the last three years, and not a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than fifty Negro churches have been burned or bombed [as was the case with Bell Flower M.B. Baptist Church right in Grenada!] in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk surrounded by a halo of adoration.”

If Carmichael, who represents the “young” to King (King was only 38), his anger and sense of hopelessness is the fault of white America. Why? Because black lives simply did not matter to white America.

That’s right. King illustrated this by an interesting story. Carmichael was with King in Alabama when Army veteran Jimmy Lee Jackson had been brutally murdered by the state police on February 26, 1965 for trying to register to vote (this was the impetus for the March from Selma to Montgomery). A white man, a minister, James Reeb, was also killed. I will let King tell the story.

They remembered how President Johnson sent flowers to the gallant Mrs. Reeb, and in his eloquent “We Shall Overcome” speech paused to mention that one person, James Reeb, had already died in the struggle. Somehow the President forgot to mention Jimmy, who died first. The parents and sister of Jimmy received no flowers from the President. The students felt this keenly, not because they felt that the death of James Reeb was less tragic, but because they felt the failure to mention Jimmy Jackson only REINFORCED THE IMPRESSION THAT TO WHITE AMERICA THE LIFE OF A NEGRO IS INSIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGLESS.” (my emphasis).

King says many other things we ought to hear. But right here he put his finger on something. “Black Power” was voicing the cry of a group that was convinced in their souls that their very lives, their existence as human beings, simply did not matter to the white power structure. That is why King begins his story with the bald statement, “James Meredith has been shot!” King’s implicit challenge to white America is not, Carmichael is wrong but “pony up and prove that not only his but every Black Life Matters!” (My words, not his). King goes on to say that Stokely’s critics are more white than Christian.

Martin never dreamed of a colorless society. He never once dreamed of a color blind world. He dreamed of a racist free society. He dreamed of a justice filled society. He dreamed of a society where Stokely Carmichael’s life as a BLACK man mattered because God had made him a black man. He dreamed of a world where God’s creational differences are the basis of celebration of humanity not the basis of oppression. That is what King dreamed for. God made Stokely black and that awful fact was to be recognized and valued. BTW God also never dreamed of a colorless world and God redeems it as part of the work of the Jewish Messiah. (See the link “I Don’t See Color!’ But I Do and So Does God … the Bible Celebrates Unity in Diversity.”)

I think America has de-fanged King just as Bernice King charged. White Christians have turned his “I Have a Dream” into some neo-Gnostic, colorless, white-washed nightmare. But for King, Black Lives Mattered … as Black Lives.

King still speaks to us even today. May we honor King by pursuing a life where justice and righteousness flow like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

All quotations from King come from Martin Luther King. Jr, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community with a Forward by Coretta Scott King. You should read this book. There is an Amazon link in the title.

2 Responses to “King: Violence, Black Power, Black Lives Matter and the Real Prophet”

  1. Ammar Says:

    Amen!

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