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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Michael Eric Dyson on King's Anger

The prophetic anger of MLK

After 1965, the civil rights leader grew angrier over America's unwillingness to change.

By Michael Eric Dyson
April 4, 2008

ON THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, few truths ring louder than this: Barack Obama and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. express in part the fallen leader's split mind on race, a division marked by chronology and color.

Before 1965, King was upbeat and bright, his belief in white America's ability to change by moral suasion resilient and durable. That is the leader we have come to know during annual King commemorations. After 1965, King was darker and angrier; he grew more skeptical about the willingness of America to change without great social coercion.

King's skepticism and anger were often muted when he spoke to white America, but they routinely resonated in black sanctuaries and meeting halls across the land. Nothing highlights that split -- or white America's ignorance of it and the prophetic black church King inspired -- more than recalling King's post-1965 odyssey, as he grappled bravely with poverty, war and entrenched racism. That is the King who emerges as we recall the meaning of his death. After the grand victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, King turned his attention to poverty, economic injustice and class inequality. King argued that those "legislative and judicial victories did very little to improve" Northern ghettos or to "penetrate the lower depths of Negro deprivation." In a frank assessment of the civil rights movement, King said the changes that came about from 1955 to 1965 "were at best surface changes" that were "limited mainly to the Negro middle class." In seeking to end black poverty, King told his staff in 1966 that blacks "are now making demands that will cost the nation something. ... You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then."

King's conclusion? "There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism." He didn't say this in the mainstream but to his black colleagues.

For the complete piece see:,0,1840793.story

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