Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real History: Dr. King was a Prophet, He was also a Plagiarizer, "Sexually Athletic," Unpopular, and a Genius

In his 1991 memoir, Breaking Barriers, journalist Carl Rowan writes that in 1964 congressman John Rooney told him that he and his congressional committee had heard J. Edgar Hoover play an audiotape of an apparent orgy held in King's Washington hotel suite. Over the sounds of a couple having intercourse in the background, according to Rooney, King could be heard saying to a man identified as Abernathy, "Come on over here, you big black motherfucker, and let me suck your dick."
What a great visual and a funny story.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial was dedicated today. As a country, we can breath a collective exhalation as racism is finally dead, Dr. King's dream achieved, and a Black President, the goal of the long Black Freedom Struggle has been elected. The memorial is a symbol of America's great triumph over white supremacy.

Of course, those are narratives best suited for a flattened version of history, one more fit for children and the willfully ignorant than for truth seekers and truth tellers. A country needs its lies, mythologies, and fictions. A country should also take account of how far it has come, while also realizing how much work remains. In all, history is the thing of cowards and free-riders (Herman Cain for example) who create fictions of their participation in righteous struggles (how every black person has relatives who marched with King and The Movement).

The reality is that most folks stand aside and watch history happen around them. Moreover, in reflecting on the evils of the past, no one is ever responsible ("my family never owned slaves"; "we were immigrants who came here after slavery"), it was always "those people" and never us. Most folks were good, the bad were in the minority, shadows who hovered in the closets and alleyways of our collective memory. When there is goodness everyone wants to own a piece of it. Where there is bad, most run away from how it benefited them. Lies are comforting things--especially when we convince ourselves that they are true.

I like my heroes will all of their complications and not despite them. Like all Americans, and black and brown folks in particular, I owe Dr. King and the other freedom fighters in the movement a debt that I can never repay. This is a given that should always be acknowledged. I also celebrate Dr. King's legacy as a real man, a thinking man, a loving man, and a flawed man.

He yelled "I'm fucking for Jesus!" and "I am not a Negro tonight!" while displaying his "compulsive sexual athleticism" with multiple women in one evening. Brother King was a shrewd strategist and provocateur who shamed white America by exposing its violent ugliness and hypocrisy. Dr. King plagiarized portions of his dissertation and speeches. He was also a calculating master of realpolitik. And of course Dr. King was prophetic as he faced down death: I cannot help but to honor a person who meets fate with their eyes open. In our shared black vernacular, Brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was "real folk."

As Americans engage in a little hero worship today with the dedication of Dr. King's monument, let's not forget that he was one of the most unpopular people in America (with a significant percentage of whites, and no small number of blacks) at the time of his death. Let us also not forget that the United States government harassed, threatened, and undermined the Civil Rights Movement. The FBI was particularly obsessed with Dr. King as they famously urged him to commit suicide in order to save face for his various peccadilloes and "indiscretions."

When I look at the Dr. King memorial I think of those efforts to destroy him, and how unpopular he was while alive. I love him even more for his perseverance in the face of such opposition. We should honor his greatness and full humanity; on this day and all others Dr. King's memory deserves more than childish platitudes.

7 comments:

Thrasher said...

I have no problem with the reaity of any human being's life as I am one of those creatures as well..lol,lol,lol

With regard to who the 'real MLK' was/is what ever the relaity reveals I can handle it knowing his sum total life as one of those creatures called a human being was icon and legendary..

It is a life I hope to leave behind as well...

Thank You MLK and all of those now and in the past who impacted the arc of life for rest of the creatures in the place we call earth

fred c said...

I don't know where the truth lies, but I can tell you that growing up in New York did not tend to make me believe everything that I hear. It all fits Hoover's agenda, and that makes me suspicious.

Besides, this kind of allegation is all sideline issues, move on people! nothing to see here! Are there any allegations of abuse of power or self-dealing? I don't think so. Nothing that would interfere with my admiration for Dr. King.

chaunceydevega said...

@Thrasher. I know he hears you. Question: who owns Dr. King's legacy? Everyone? No one? We all do, but some more than others?

@Fred. You know. I bet there are some lies mixed with fictions there. I for my own twisted reasons would like to believe the stories are real. Elder gods are also human...

Thrasher said...

CD,

In the universe it is possible to be immortal while being a human being of course this status is not afforded to the living...MLK is now an immortal what ever he did or did not do is now irrevelant...

fred c said...

I'd like to know too: who owns Dr. King's legacy? I would like to be in the reckoning somewhere, not the place of honor but somewhere. I graduated from high school in '65, and when I heard or read Dr. King's words they had great meaning for me. I think I learned something. I always had the impression that he was speaking to all of us.

umbrarchist said...

Where does the Ethiopian Bible belong among Black American Christians? Ethiopia is on the East coast of Africa while our ancestors came from the west coast.

H.G. Wells mentioned Christianity in Abyssinia 7 years before MLK was born so why isn't it common knowledge 43 years after his death. Europeans do not have the Books of Enoch in their Bibles.

adept2u said...

HA! I love ya if only because you stand up at the Daily Kos. Keep doing you because I can't do it anymore, I'm one of the banned. http://adept2u.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-markos-moulitsas-taught-me-to-call.html That's my story if you're interested, and I know I'm going to join the tribe.