Legend or Myth: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

My interest in the unsolved mysteries of American history recently led me to reconsider the powerful influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That famous black-and-white photo of witnesses pointing in the direction of the fatal shot is forever etched in our memories. But rather than entertain conspiracy theories surrounding his assassination, I decided to focus on his political ideologies. What exactly was MLK's dream?

As I Googled MLK's democratic views, another photo taken at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis caught my attention. I was surprised to see radical activist Rev. Jesse Jackson in MLK's company. Of course, he's always been there but I wasn't paying attention. To my knowledge, Jackson was a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement with ties to socialist and communist organizations. What I didn't realize was how close he was to MLK. I could easily mistake one for being a good man, but not the other.

Before my political awakening in 2019, their friendship didn't matter much. I also haven't studied Black History or the civil rights era since middle school (a long time ago). Thus, I'm still under the impression of what I learned from teachers and authority figures. Since I considered this bit of history "settled," my initial reaction to reports of MLK's socialist rhetoric dissolved into nothing more than a raised eyebrow.

A few days ago, I was taken aback as I listened to clips of his speeches calling for a "radical redistribution of economic power." Now, I don't remember believing MLK was a Republican, but I certainly never thought of him as a Democratic Socialist (I'm still researching what this term meant in the 1960s). It turns out that economic equality by way of government intervention was central to MLK's movement. Under the guise of "economic justice," these same ideas are enticing present-day Americans (with low political IQ) to vote away their constitutional freedoms.

I'm waking up to the possibility that MLK's dream was not the American Dream - you know the one where you start with nothing, work hard, and end up with more than what you had before. It seems MLK did not fully believe in the institution of capitalism or fiscal conservativism. He may not have used terms such as "social justice" or "inclusion" to describe his ideas, but MLK's rhetoric remains foundational to socialist movements that seek to destroy America.

In 2018, In These Times (a publication linked to Black Lives Matter) wrote an article titled "The Forgotten Socialist History of Martin Luther King Jr." The commentary quotes a famous line from MLK's letter to Coretta Scott - "I am much more socialist in my economic theory than capitalistic...capitalism has outlived its usefulness." The article goes on to say, "As Americans honor King on his birthday, it is important to remember that the civil rights icon was also a democratic socialist."

Is this all out of context? Am I more naïve than I realize? Have I failed to grasp the magnitude of inequality that was once present in American society? Were white supremacy, segregation, and police brutality exaggerated in any way? Of course, the oppression of Democrat legislation was/is real, which leaves me confused as to why the black community continues to overwhelmingly support this platform. At any rate, I'm starting to wonder if the Civil Rights Movement was hijacked to push through another agenda.

I don't believe MLK was a communist, but some of the people around him definitely were. Memory tells me his fight for equality was based on meritocracy and seizing opportunities, but his speeches sound different to my ears today. His call to action was for the federal government to not only solve financial problems within the black community but to eradicate poverty entirely. This is impossible, especially in a socialist economic system. Venezuela is a prime example of the failures of "equal wealth" policies.

I understand the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and even President Lyndon B. Johnson's Executive Order 11246 (Affirmative Action) were not baseless legislation. In those days, America did have legitimate, systemic racial issues (again, most of which stemmed from the Democratic Party). Still, in memorializing MLK as one of the greatest warriors for civil rights, I can't shake the feeling that on some level we've been lied to about the inner workings of his movement.

In 2019, the Washington Post wrote,

"We have little trouble remembering the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights icon. But we rarely do the harder work of remembering the full King...We particularly fail to remember his call for Americans to do something hard but necessary: redistribute wealth.

"[King] also challenged a core part of the American Dream: the false assumption that those who work hard can move upward. King rejected the bootstrap myth because he understood that many people, notably people of color, didn't have boots. For King, economic justice was at the core of his religion and his political activism...

"His commitment to economic justice both at home and abroad should be his lasting legacy..."

Anyway, happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!


  1. Americans today don't know the things you wrote about here. Well said. Dr. King was a great civil rights leader we needed during that time...but like every other human being on the planet - he definitely had his flaws.


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