King’s democratic socialism, anti-imperialism and black prophetic Christianity were fundamental to his identity
I have been thinking off on for quite some time (oh, just years) about this very topic – the radicalism of the good Reverend Dr. King. His speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (aka “I Have a Dream” speech) was undoubtedly important and well-crafted. It was a fine piece of rhetoric – and I don’t use the term rhetoric in a derisive way but rather in appreciation of an art and science. But that speech and event weren’t as passive as some would paint them. I also feel I got a better sense of him (and therefore the “Dream” speech) and his radical identity in his other writings and oratory and documentary footage about him. “The Drum Major Instinct” and “Where Do We Go from Here?” were game changer speeches for me when I read them. I still go back to them for what they’ve imprinted on me and for some sankofa.
Roughly 30 seconds into a search I found this article on Al Jazeera America (AJAM!). I read it through thinking “Yes! This is a vital part of Dr. King’s identity people completely disregard“ – because superficial "history” teaches us he did a few demonstrations (maybe some more speeches?), spoke at a march in Washington about his dream, wanted Black kids and white kids to hold hands, then got shot because he wanted Black kids and white kids to hold hands and pretend the visible spectrum is not a thing.
This was a man they called an “agitator.” This was a man who advocated for reparations/restitution from slavery. This was a man who basically said Democrats were weak sauce for caving to Dixiecrats, Republicans were weak sauce for bowing to right wing hypocrites, and both had betrayed “the Negro” in America. This was a man who told poor whites they were played for fools by their oppressors and being tricked into having animosity and seeking a sense superiority over Black people rather than reaching for solidarity and mutual betterment. This was a man who told white clergy “allies” they and other white moderates were more disappointing than the Klan. This was a man who criticized capitalism and declared he wasn’t a communist but that Marx had some solid points. This was a man who openly opposed the Vietnam war, police brutality, and exploitation of the poor. In reading him, I found many places where I agreed with him and some I didn’t. But I learned and loved this overall message: He wasn’t just trying to hold hands and have peace at any cost. He was trying to shake some foundations.
So, after I read the article, I scrolled back up to see the author. In my haste to see what was written, I didn’t even look at the credit line. The writer was none other than Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou. Here is his bio blurb:
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is the Pastor for Formation and Justice at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain in Boston. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, “Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on the Future of Religion and Democracy” and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
But what truly caught my eye in that author credit line was his twitter handle – @RevSekou. I know that handle because Rev. Sekou has been on the ground in Ferguson, MO, protesting. I remember the tweets when he was detained by the police and the rejoice at his release. A lot of names/handles from there have flooded through my timeline – names of brilliant, passionate people who have gained many admirers (including me) in their organization and fight to be considered wholly human – and Rev Sekou is one I recall. It makes sense a pastor who wrote on the radicalism of MLK last winter would be on his feet in Missouri in resistance this fall living that radical gospel. As Rev. Sekou put it in the article:
“King’s gospel affirmed black resistance as a form of human dignity and rejected forms of Christianity that favored peace without justice and complacency in the face of immorality.”
This being National Arts and Humanities month, I think it is important now (and always) to acknowledge the social science, philosophy, religion, history, etc. contexts of Dr. King’s life and work and put human actions and movements in context. Say it with me, class: CONTEXT MATTERS!