Let’s listen not just to Luther King’s dream speech but to all his ideas
Opinion: Civil rights leader called for ‘eternal opposition’ to poverty, racism and militarism
You don’t hear that quoted much these days. Not within earshot of Barack Obama, anyway, and him listening to everything and with his thumb on the trigger of a bomb.
In the same year, King published a book elaborating on the themes of the Riverside speech, Where Do We Go from Here – wonderfully well-written, well-worth digging out – in which he acknowledged the legislative advances made under Johnston, then went on: “The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates. The real cost lies ahead . . .
“There is something wrong with capitalism . . . Why are there 40 million poor people in America? When you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system . . . Who owns the oil? . . . Who owns the iron ore? . . . Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” Emblazon that one across the lawn at Leinster House.
King was in Memphis a year later where his life was ended by six bullets from the gun of James Earl Ray. His purpose? To support sanitation workers on strike for union recognition. He told them: “You may have to escalate the struggle a bit . . . You ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis . . . Not a Negro in this city will go to any job . . . The city of Memphis will not be able to function . . . All I’m saying is you’ve got to put the pressure on.”
King explicitly rejected the label “socialist”. But the last call he ever made was for a general strike. Now there’s something to give Ictu leaders a bout of the galloping heebie-jeebies.
And here’s how he ended Where Do We Go from Here?: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when ‘every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain’.” Say it loud.