The Truth That Gets Buried With the Messenger

Martin Luther King Day is a solemn reminder of the integrity, commitment and courage we all have within us.

It’s easy to portray Dr. King as a single-issue prophet whose work is finished. In fact, it was prematurely Interrupted. Dr. Martin Luther King survived a difficult and dangerous struggle for social justice, but when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., the reason for his visit there was to draw attention to the economic struggles of a group of sanitation workers – their wages and work conditions.

Since then, wages for all workers have stagnated, union membership has plummeted and the Great Recession has caused poverty to reach four-decade highs.

  • Today, 15.1 percent of Americans –46.2 million – live in poverty, according to the census data. 
  • Corporate CEOs now make nearly 400 times the average worker.
  • Our government has spent more than $1 trillion on the Iraq war as our infrastructure crumbles.

The Evils of Racism, Economic Exploitation and War

In August 1967, Dr. King spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in a speech called Where Do We Go From Here? He spoke of the fact that the evils of discrimination, economic exploitation and war are interrelated:

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available…Now, our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth…

I’m not talking about communism. What I’m talking about is far beyond communism… What I’m saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.

A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will “thingify” them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!”