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April 02, 2018


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Another informative and wonderful post!

It’s important, I think, to also consider and appreciate King’s “internationalist” (or ‘cosmopolitan’) and foreign policy views and perspectives. For instance, King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, at the invitation of the new Prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, attended in 1957 the celebrations marking Ghana’s independence from Great Britain. Immediately afterward King said,

“This event will give impetus to oppressed peoples all over the world. I think it will have worldwide implications and repercussions–not only for Asia and Africa, but also for America…. It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice. And it seems to me that this is fit testimony to the fact that eventually the forces of justice triumph in the universe, and somehow the universe itself is on the side of freedom and justice. So that this gives new hope to me in the struggle for freedom.”

Later, upon returning to the U.S., he said

“Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first, that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. [….] Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance. [….] So don’t go out this morning with any illusions. [.…] If we wait for it to work itself out, it will never be worked out! Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.”

Consider too his brilliant critique of the Vietnam War captured in part in his speech now known as “Beyond Vietnam,” an address delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, at Riverside Church in New York City, 4 April 1967. Or recall his outspoken views on apartheid in South Africa, including his first public call for economic sanctions against the government of South Africa in a statement issued jointly with Chief Albert Luthuli on December 10, 1962: “Appeal for Action against Apartheid.” Here is an extract from his speech on apartheid in South Africa in London, December 1964 (in route to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize):

[….] “In our struggle for freedom and justice in the United States, which has also been so long and arduous, we feel a powerful sense of identification with those in the far more deadly struggle for freedom in South Africa. We know how Africans there, and their friends of other races, strove for half a century to win their freedom by non-violent methods. We have honoured Chief Lutuli [Inkosi Albert John Lutuli] for his leadership, and we know how this non-violence was only met by increasing violence from the state, increasing repression, culminating in the shootings of Sharpeville and all that has happened since.

Clearly there is much in Mississippi and Alabama to remind South Africans of their own country, yet even in Mississippi we can organize to register Negro voters, we can speak to the press, we can in short organize the people in non-violent action. But in South Africa even the mildest form of non-violent resistance meets with years of imprisonment, and leaders over many years have been restricted and silenced and imprisoned. We can understand how in that situation people felt so desperate that they turned to other methods, such as sabotage.

Today great leaders —Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe — [alas, I doubt few Americans know anything whatsoever about the latter individual] are among many hundreds wasting away in Robben Island prison. Against the massively armed and ruthless state, which uses torture and sadistic forms of interrogation to crush human beings - even driving some to suicide - the militant opposition inside South Africa seems for the moment to be silenced: the mass of the people seems to be contained, seems for the moment unable to break from oppression. [….]

It is in this situation, with the great mass of South Africans denied their humanity, their dignity, denied opportunity, denied all human rights; it is in this situation, with many of the bravest and best South Africans serving long years in prison, with some already executed; in this situation we in America and Britain have a unique responsibility. For it is we, through our investments, through our governments’ failure to act decisively, who are guilty of bolstering up the South African tyranny.

Our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity. We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa - the action which African leaders have appealed for - in a massive movement for economic sanctions.

[….] If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil; if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.” [….]

I wrote about this in a post for Religious Left Law on 1/20/2-14: “The International Anti-Apartheid Movement & Martin Luther King Jr.’s Call for Economic Sanctions against the South African Regime.”

Finally, King’s critical views on capitalism and his commitment to democratic socialism, evidenced most strongly in his later campaigns and speeches, are still insufficiently appreciated and should be considered as part of this “internationalist” outlook (in this case, international political economy). (See, for example, the online piece by Matthew Miles Goodrich for In These Times on January 18th of this year.)

[I did not provide links out of fear the post would have landed in the spam folder.]

Patrick S. O'Donnell

On this “internationalist” perspective (and solidarity), see too Robert Greene’s post at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, “Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghana’s Independence, and Cold War Civil Rights,” March 22, 2018.


Let's not forget why he was in Memphis that day. He was supporting sanitation workers in the quest for moving beyond starvation wages. He thought it was a crime for the richest country on earth to pay people so little. His later work was about economic inequality as well as social and racial inequality. That is so-often forgotten about him. He would be disgusted and shocked at Amazon, Uber, McDonalds, and how most of the job creation has been in jobs that pay poverty wages.

Anthony Gaughan

Thank you for your comments, Patrick. You are absolutely right that MLK's international legacy is very important as well.

Anthony Gaughan

Thank you for your comments, Litowitz. You make a very important point about why King was in Memphis in the first place. It is a telling fact that he did not die among the rich and the powerful. Instead, he died fighting for the rights of sanitation workers, a deeply noble, honorable, and important cause. The broader context of King's death thus reflected the nobility of King's life.

Anthony Gaughan

I should also add that, at the time that he shot MLK, James Earl Ray was not only an ex-convict, but was in fact an escaped convict from a maximum security prison in Missouri. PBS's American Experience program aired an excellent documentary on MLK's assassination last night called, "Roads to Memphis." Here is a link:

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

I am loath to inject politics into the discussion here. However, that ship sailed long ago.

Does anybody know what the current President did or said for this memorial event? Was he golfing? Talking to his buddies Ted Nugent? Patrick Stein? Selling arms to the Middle East making "tremendous deals?"

This was a really important day...I observed lots of folks talking about it, except the one person who could have shown a tiny bit of leadership. We know who the "good people" are in DJT's world.

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