To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we take a look at some tidbits rarely discussed regarding the life and legacy of the revered civil rights leader.
By: Jimbo X
The late, great, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is in rare company. In the history of the United States, only four people have ever been awarded a national holiday in their name, and King is the only one who has been alive over the course of the last 150 years. Indeed, the vaunted Rev. Dr. King is about as close as contemporary American culture gets to a patron saint; beyond being celebrated as a skillful, effective civil rights leader, he's basically become a deified figure, a super-man whose name is to be mentioned in only the most respectful and reverential of hushed tones. In today's cultural climate, to deny that he was anything short of a sacrosanct messiah is enough to get you labeled as a hatemonger, and saying you disagree or look unfavorably on anything King said or believed is pretty much considered a thought crime on par with declaring Hitler to be, and I quote, "fucking awesome."
Alas, we here at The Internet Is In America know that anytime anyone is celebrated as a near-perfect God-Man, there's usually a lot of stuff the celebrants tend to overlook or simply forget about. You know, like the part about John Lennon being a remorseless woman beater and deadbeat dad, or that Gandhi was a crypto-racist warmonger who routinely compared his wife to livestock and engaged in activity that can be rightly labeled as paedo-incest. Nobody's perfect, and the ones everybody keeps telling you are the most perfect of all are usually the ones who have the gnarliest skeletons in their closet. And yes, Martin Luther King, Jr.- as celebrated and beloved he is - is not immune from The Great Man Myth, either.
Of course, none of this is to say that MLK was, inherently, a bad person, or that all of the civil rights crusading he did back in the 1960s wasn't worthwhile and noble and heroic and courageous and inspiring and all of that jazz. Interestingly, it seems like most Americans, especially the younger crowd, have no idea who King was or what he did other than deliver the "I Have a Dream" speech and get assassinated, which, of course, is a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of half-truths, misconceptions and flat out lies to percolate as non-existent facts about his alleged life (including the easily refutable assertion that the government was found "guilty" of murdering him in a 1999 trial.)
Below, however, are a few pieces of trivia about MLK that are far from hearsay or conjecture or after-the-fact fabrications. As it turns out, there is an astounding amount of public information on his life that, despite being quite accessible, just hasn't entered the domain of everyday knowledge. On what would have been King's 87th birthday, let's take the time to reflect on who the American icon really was ... and who that is, most certainly, might just surprise you.
Fact Number One:
His real name wasn't Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fact Number Two:
He grew up in a family that, even by today's standards, would be considered wealthy.
If you've ever visited the King family home, you probably walked away thinking "you know, for a house built before World War II, this place is nice." In fact, MLK's old digs on Auburn Avenue would probably be fetching $300,000, maybe even $400,000 in today's ever-gentrifying Atlanta housing market. Whereas Malcolm X grew up eating dandelion weeds, the King family was very, very well-off financially - indeed, they were certainly in far better economic shape than the average white family in Georgia at the time. A lot of that has to do with MLK's maternal grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams, who as head minister of the famed Ebeneezer Baptist Church - which, by 1903, already had 400 members - held a lot of social clout in Atlanta's black community. (Keep in mind, black churches in the wake of the Civil War - thanks in part to their tax-free status - became something of a de facto community war chest. Even in the late 1800s, the Department of Labor noted the economic significance of black places of worship - "the church collects and distributes considerable sums of money, and the whole social life of the town centers here," as one bulletin put it.) A founding member of the National Baptist Convention - which was basically the NAACP before the NAACP existed - Williams was able to land a position as president of the Atlanta Baptist Ministers Union and chairman of the General State Baptist Convention's executive board and finance committee. By 1918, he had risen to the rank of NAACP branch president in Atlanta, which quickly grew to more than 1,400 members. Three years before MLK was born, Daddy King married Williams' only child, Alberta King, and when her father died in 1931, MLK, Sr. inherited his "Sweet Auburn" empire. Despite the Great Depression, King's evangelical enterprise flourished, and he was oft-referred to as "the best paid negro minister in the city."
Fact Number Three:
He attempted suicide at the age of 12 (and was almost killed by a deranged female stalker when he was 29.)
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a wee pre-teen, he came *this* close to offing himself. The day of his grandmother's death, he had snuck out against his parents' wishes to see a parade; so distraught over not being there during his nana's final hour that when he heard the news, he responded by taking a suicide dive out of the second story of his home. Believe it or not, that wasn't the closest King got to being killed before he was assassinated in 1968 - the revered civil rights leader almost died in 1958, when a paranoid schizophrenic black woman with an IQ of 70 stabbed him with a steel letter opener at a book signing in Harlem. Oh, and Junior isn't the only person in his family to succumb to the bullet; his mother was shot and killed in 1974 - and, in quite possibly the most horrifically ironic fashion imaginable - by a racist black radical.
Fact Number Four:
His dad told him he was "too good" to marry a poor white woman.
While attending the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Penn., King began a courtship with Betty Moatz, a young Caucasian cafeteria worker and the daughter of German immigrants. King was so besotted by Moatz that at one point he mulled marrying her. Alas, interracial marriages were still deemed taboo even north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and King's fellow seminarians eventually talked him out of going any further with the relationship. Interestingly enough, the biggest opponent of the would-be marriage was King's father, who was vehemently against his son "marrying down." As David Garrow penned in Bearing the Cross, Daddy King wasn't neccesarily a big fan of King marrying Coretta Scott, either - indeed, King Senior had more or less set up an arranged marriage between his eldest son and Mattiwilda Dobbs, who was the daughter of Atlanta Civic League founder John Wesley Dobbs, as a way to strengthen the family's already considerable political clout.
Fact Number Five:
He was a confirmed plagiarist.
The Internet Is In America readers who have attended college anytime over the last 10 years have probably used the Turnitin software - an online service schools pay for to check student submitted papers for plagiarism - at some point during their academic sojourns. Well, if MLK were to turn in his dissertation using said software, the damn thing would've had more red on it than a Coca Cola can. In the late 1980s, Stanford University got a hold of MLK's Boston University doctoral thesis, the ultra-academic-sounding A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. Upon closer examination, it appears that gigantic portions of the paper were lifted - sans attribution - from a paper submitted at the same university just three years earlier. As researchers at Stanford further investigated a treasure trove of King papers, they were shocked to find out that not only did the dude plagiarize the shit out of his school assignments, he even appeared to have copied and pasted a large number of his speeches and sermons. Civil Rights historian Ralph E. Luker described the impressive scope of King's intellectual thievery: "the farther King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long-established practice." Oh, and regarding the "originality" of King's most iconic speech? Apparently, he had some dreams about the previously published works of Archibald Carey, Jr. and Mahalia Jackson, too...
Fact Number Six:
He packed heat, smoked cigarettes and cheated on his wife A LOT.
With his name more or less synonymous with nonviolent resistance, it might surprise a few folks that MLK was a pretty staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. Fearing a hit by the Klan, King even applied for a concealed weapons carry permit once, but seeing as how he tried to obtain said license in ALABAMA, I reckon you can figure how well that went. Nonetheless, King owned guns out the wazoo, with former adviser Glenn Smiley once describing King's home as "an arsenal." Ironically, King's assassination would be one of the major catalysts of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which, among other things, prevents the sale or transfer of weapons and ammo to drug addicts, the mentally insane and illegal aliens. Rounding out the vice-a-rama, King was a lifelong smoker (in fact, he was taking a drag when he was popped by James Early Ray) and FBI surveillance - not to mention firsthand accounts from longtime compatriot Ralph David Abernathy - gives a lot of credence to allegations that he had affairs a' plenty behind his wife's back.
Fact Number Seven:
Some of his top advisers were avowed communists.
From the get-go, King's socialistic stance on economic policies had him pegged as a no-good Red by the John Birch Society-types of the late '50s and 1960s. Indeed, rumors about King's alleged connections to the Communist Party persist to this day, with some even hypothesizing that he was taking orders directly from the Kremlin (fun fact: horrible racists actually own the domain martinlutherking.org, if you didn't already know.) While there is no public evidence verifying MLK as a Commie, card-carrying or otherwise, quite a few of those in King's inner circles were indeed self-professed Communists. King's secretary and mentor Bayard Rustin - an openly homosexual man in the mega-conservative 1950s who would later serve executive positions with the AFL-CIO and the Socialist Party of America - spent the World War II years rallying troops for the Young Communist League. Another close King confident - speechwriter, public relations point person and financial adviser Stanley David Levison - held a high-ranking position in the Communist Party USA and is believed to have received payoffs from the Soviet Union. And two of King's top financiers - Jack O'Dell and A. Philip Randolph - were both, at one point in time, members of Marxism-espousing political outfits. Which brings us back to the topic of King's economic beliefs...
Fact Number Eight:
His politics leaned heavily towards socialism.
While King is primarily remembered as a civil rights crusader, economic issues were just as big a part of his political platform as race relations; indeed, in 1958, he described "economic injustice" as the inseparable twin of racial injustice. Throughout his career, he rallied and advocated for a series of extremely progressive policy measures - i.e., the kind of stuff people who smoke a lot of weed and are always tweeting about Bernie Sanders are yammering on and on about today - including a guaranteed basic income and the creation of a sprawling government program ensuring a public job to all who want one (but, uh, not in the form of the military, of course.) So yes, MLK can rightly be considered a socialist, in the classical sense of the term - after all, he did say he promoted merging capitalism and communism into a "higher synthesis that combines the truths of both" socioeconomic models. He was also a pioneering proponent of reparations, telling Playboy that legislative equality wasn't enough to close the financial gap between whites and blacks and proposed the U.S. government dole out $50 billion in restitution to marginalized peoples of all varieties. Interestingly enough, this indeed came to pass, albeit as federal entitlement measures enacted by President Lyndon Johnson's so-called "War on Poverty," which created both the federal food stamp program (the Feds doled out $82 billion in SNAP benefits in 2013 alone, plus another $55 billion in earned income tax credits, PLUS another $50 billion in Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid, which handed out about $475 billion in state grants in just the 2014 fiscal year. Which sort of begs the question ... why isn't LBJ celebrated as a deified figure in the black community as well?
Fact Number Nine:
He left his family destitute following his assassination.
While King collected quite a bit of moolah from his ministry, speaking engagements, book royalties and miscellaneous humanitarian prizes, one place we know for sure he didn't sink the funds was in his own family's future. Despite being an obvious assassination target, not only did he never take out a life insurance policy, he never even drew up a will; as a result, when he was murdered in 1968, he left his wife and children with hardly any appreciable benefits. Following King's intestate funeral, a number of activists (among them, Harry Belafonte), took up the financial slack and crowdfunded the surviving King brood. To this day, legal battles abound regarding who has the rights to King's likeness, possessions and published works. Alas, MLK's kids have gotten some measure of financial benefit from their father's legacy, having started the for-profit organization King, Inc., which, among other shrewd business moves, charged the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation $2.7 million to construct the National Monument, forced Living Colour to change the lyrics of "Cult of Personality," and sold almost every known recording of King's voice to Steven Spielberg.
Fact Number Ten:
We're going to learn a lot of things we didn't know about him in 2027.
Plan on living another 11 years? If so, you'll be privy to some newfound public info on MLK, whose full FBI record is set to be declassified in 2027. Now, as to what those files consist of is anybody's guess, with both hardcore King supporters and detractors throwing out their own hypothesi. On the pro-MLK side, the general narrative is that the files were ordered sealed for so long to prevent the public from finding out just how underhanded the FBI - in particular, alleged transvestite J. Edgar Hoover - were in their quest to undermine King's character. And considering their cockamamie COINTEL smearing campaigns that have been brought to light - including a notorious "anonymous" letter encouraging MLK to commit suicide - one has to imagine the stuff they didn't want publicized is WAY the hell out there. On the flip side, the denizens of Stormfront and other white nationalist sites are damn certain the collection of wiretaps will conclude once and for all that King was a bona-fide communist, or at the very least, will reveal some downright kinky extra-marital odysseys. Alas, all anybody can do is throw out conjecture at this point, but whatever those FBI files reveal? Make no mistake about it, they're going to change the way we view King - for better, or for worse.