Misremembering is the Conservative Way of Treating Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr“I am of the impression that the Negro voters will go largely for the Democratic Party. I haven’t fully decided which candidate I will vote for. In the past I have always voted the Democratic ticket.” – Letter of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Viva O. Sloan, 1 October 1956

How my Pat Buchanan-loving father hated Martin Luther King, Jr. My father would have been very comfortable with the modern-day Republican Party. In many ways, he anticipated its platform, a return to Victorian-era mores; DADT could have been written by him: keep it in the closet where it belongs.

He was fond of saying that there were no fags in HIS Navy, meaning, not literally, that there were no sailors with same-sex preferences but that such sailors were smart enough to keep it to themselves and in their pants, because in the “good old days” there was nothing stopping homophobic sailors like him from meting out the just punishment of God to those who dared to be different.

It was a white man’s America, he grew up in. The Jews were the enemy; fags were the enemy; women were the enemy (he spoke, as he grew older, of being freed from the “tyranny of the pussy”); the blacks were the enemy; and white folks whispered their fears of having a genealogical “n*gger in the wood pile.” Martin Luther King, Jr., they whispered, hated white people but he loved to have sex with white women.

It’s no wonder MLK rubbed him the wrong way; conservatives can’t even get current facts straight, let alone facts out of the past.

So what’s up with MLK suddenly being a conservative? How is it that a radical black man like Martin Luther King ended up being, instead, a defender of traditional values? And how can they even say that with a straight face?

The tendency of people is to get more conservative as they get older, but not MLK. As John King writes at CNN, “King concluded that racism wasn’t the only problem: War and poverty were the others. He came out against the Vietnam War. He called for the nationalization of some industries and a guaranteed annual wage.”

That kind of talk didn’t win him any friends among conservatives then and it should not now – but people well versed in picking and choosing their biblical passages have no problem cherry-picking MLK’s message.

Most of all, conservative revisionists must ignore this, his words to people in a church of all places:

It didn’t cost the nation a penny to open lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to give us the right to vote. But it will cost the nation billions to feed and house all of its citizens. The country needs a radical redistribution of wealth.

What would Jesus say? We all know, because conservatives have told us, that Jesus was staunchly opposed to the redistribution of wealth and a foe of the poor and downtrodden.

They say that MLK, who is responsible for these words (in “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community“)…

“A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.”

…was a foe of affirmative action.

This is the man who wrote The Purpose of Education in 1948 without mentioning God even once. In this essay, King wrote,

Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

Hardly a description of conservative attitudes toward education.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  dared claim black people had a right to *gasp* vote:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others (“Give Us The Ballot,” 1957).

Hardly a description of conservative attitudes toward voting rights, as the 2012 presidential election demonstrates.

First of all, why are we shocked? They’ve already turned radical liberal Thomas Paine, who died penniless as a result of his opposition to their religion, into one of them. They’ve done the same to Thomas Jefferson, who was called an “infidel” by his own era’s Evangelicals.

Conservatives love to misremember things: race, as is the case with MLK, religion, as with Thomas Jefferson, social injustice, as with Thomas Paine, and of course, most strikingly of all, Jesus himself, turning the man who damned the rich to hell into a spokesperson for plutocracy. King, too, apparently, despite these words:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.”

In the name of “reclaiming” people and events for modern conservative agendas, they have restructured our Nation’s history so that white folks didn’t steal land from Indians, and where slavery really was kind of a good thing for black folks, making them better off than they were under modern liberal management.

And events did not have to take place two centuries-plus ago: George W. Bush was president from 2000 to 2008 and they’ve already written him out of existence and assigned his manifest misdeeds and failings to Barack Obama’s watch.

So it only makes sense that one of the biggest liberal icons of the latter half of the 20th century should become, in the early years of the twenty-first, a conservative.

The capital-T in their capital-T Truth seems to stand for tortured, as in Tortured Truth.

And this truth has been tortured all out of recognition. Ronald Reagan, dead for less than a decade, would not recognize himself in conservative iconography. The only person sure to remain safe from conservative history shenanigans is FDR, because his New Deal is a monument to liberal and progressive thought.

You see, I remember what white conservatives of the era said about Martin Luther King. I grew up with it. We can shake our fingers now at these slippery-eel-conservatives and say to them, “tell me you did not just say that.”

But they did. And they are. I guess they need this. I mean, they don’t have any black people of their own to speak of. They have to troll among the dead to find those who can no longer protest. And you know MLK wasn’t shy about speaking out. He’d have given them both barrels – metaphorically speaking of course – unlike the countless conservatives who wanted to give him the actual two barrels in celebration of their God-given Second Amendment rights, unlike the white man who, armed with a gun, eventually, did just that.

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