The Myth of Jewish and Black Unity
On April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet ripped through Martin Luther King Jr’s body and ended his brief life. That dreadful day also marked the end of independent Black leadership in the United States. From that moment, the African American community has been without authentic leadership. In fact, there has not arisen a single Black leader since King’s death. At least not one has arisen before us with the power to galvanize the masses on his level. None of the “manufactured leaders” of today, reflect his commitment to fighting for African Americans. He loved his people so much, that he willingly laid down his life for them. Washington is right in the Introduction of A Testament of Hope that, “No other Black leader has quite equaled the rich social and religious artistry of Martin Luther King Jr. He was indeed a world historical figure. He captured the spotlight of history precisely at the right time, and responded with a blueprint for what America could become if it trusted its democratic legacy. His dream proved to be too threatening.”
Leadership requires courage, a rare commodity. Not even our best institutions of higher learning can teach how to acquire this precious attribute. King was gifted with courage and it is reflected in his ability to directly confront the major issues of his day challenging the Black community. For instance, in an interview with the Jewish community he proved to be a man of great courage and one guided by truth. The interview appeared in “Conservative Judaism” in the spring of 1968. It reveals the courage and commitment King had to his people and his trust in the community he represented. Under heavy scrutiny and no doubt pressure to be less radical for this sensitive interview, King maintained his commitment to speak truthfully on behalf of millions of Black people whose voices were otherwise marginalized and maligned.
King’s conversation with the Jewish rabbis was focused on the broken ties between liberal Jews and conservative African American leaders. Dr. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel invited King to this discussion and opened the dialogue by comparing King to the Hebrew prophets: “Where in America, today, do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the USA. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America. His mission is sacred, his leadership of supreme importance to every one of us. Martin Luther King is a voice, a vison and a way. I call upon each of every Jew to harken to his voice, to share his vision, to follow in his way. The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.”
King began his dialogue by stating that he was very concerned about the religious communities across America and that they showed little concern over the government’s mistreatment of African Americans: “All too often the religious community has been a taillight instead of a headlight,” said King. He responded to several questions raised by the rabbis that were of major concern for the Jewish community who wanted to know how to repair the broken relationship between the Black and Jewish communities. His opening remarks reveal that he was in no way timid and was willing to jeopardize offending the source of his greatest financial contributors. “I am not going to make a speech. We must get right to your questions. I simply want to say that we do confront a crisis in our nation, a crisis born of many problems. We see on every hand the restlessness of the comfortable and discontent of the affluent, and somehow it seems that this mammoth ship of state is not moving toward new and more secured shores but toward destructive rocks.”
His opening response and particularly, the boldness of his speech is relevant for us in 2020. King placed the question in the now moment by stating that the problem confronting the two communities is one of perspective. One group is committed to moving toward “new and more secured shores,” while the other group refuses to accept change and is steering toward “destructive rocks.” This is what we see happening today within the Democratic Party, which has controlled the political and social fate of African Americans for six decades. The Party refuses to accept the new reality which would bring us closer to economic and social parity. Instead, it has selected Joe Biden as their representative to maintain the status quo, which will prolong the suffering of Black people, and certainly steer the country directly into the “destructive rocks” King wanted us to avoid. Biden is a regressive character who represents the status quo and the old ways that are extremely oppressive and anti-democratic. Their selection of Biden proves that the Democratic Party will do anything to avoid steering the ship toward “more secured shores” and will go to any length to keep neoliberalism alive, howbeit on its deathbed.
King would argue elsewhere that voters in 1968 needed an alternative to the candidate the Democratic Party was supporting. “I do think the voters of our nation need an alternative in the 1968 election, but I think we are in bad shape finding that alternative with simply Johnson on the one hand and Nixon on the other.” The Democratic Party did not provide the voter with an alternative in the 1968 Presidential election and we all know the outcome. Today, in 2020, with Biden heading the ticket it looks like deja vu all over again. As usual, the Democratic Party machinery remains committed to the dictates from their financial oligarchic and have little interest in attending to the needs of their poor constituents.
For example, billionaire Mike Bloomberg just proved to the world that the political investment theory articulated by economist Thomas Ferguson and others is in full effect. The poor and working-class voter is no longer needed when one super-rich investor can purchase the nomination without the financial or moral support of the people. The Democratic Party is hedging their bet on an even weaker candidate than Hillary Clinton but, unlike in 2016, they now have the complete backing of the media. With one hundred percent support from the media, they should be able to place their man in the White House, regardless of his numerous flaws and rapid cognitive decline. The Democratic Party is controlled by white wealthy oligarchs and neoliberal fanatics who refuse to accept the death of their failed ideology. Neoliberalism has failed the common people wherever it has been adopted throughout the world. Several former eastern European countries that briefly experimented with this ideology are beginning to reject it. Even though they were being choked to death by communism, they have once again been betrayed, and some are returning to a similar form of authoritarianism not unlike the communism they rejected.
King reminded his Jewish audience that his philosophy of direct confrontation and nonviolence was a “potent weapon” to fight against White supremacy. Those who accused him of being a moderate completely misunderstood the effectiveness of this “potent weapon.” He further stated, regarding being labeled a moderate by some African American leaders, that this, too, was due to a misunderstanding of his philosophy. “ I think non-violence, militantly conceived and executed, well-organized, is the most potent weapon available to the Black man in his struggle for freedom and human dignity.”
The rabbis continued to question King, led by Rabbi Gendler, who asked how could he associate himself with individuals or civil right organizations like Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who were in open conflict with his core ideology. King responded by saying he did speak with the leader of SNCC, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Tore), about his use of the slogan “Black Power”, “Let’s not use this slogan,” said King. “Let’s get the power. A lot of ethnic groups have power, and I didn’t hear them marching around talking about Irish power or Jewish power; they just went out and got the power; let’s go out and get the power.”
King continued to elaborate upon his perspective on the slogan “Black Power,” by reminding his Jewish brethren that the phrase also had many positive attributes that should not be ignored or misconstrued. “Black Power, in the positive sense,” said King, “is a psychological call to manhood. This is desperately needed in the Black community, because for all too many years, Black people have been ashamed of themselves. It is a psychological call to manhood and Black dignity. Black Power is pooling Black political resources in order to achieve our legitimate goals . . . it is absolutely necessary for the Black people of America to achieve political power by pooling political resources.”
Those revisionist historians who claim that King was a moderate and disconnected from the more radical ideologues will have to revise their assessment of him. He was clearly connected to the Carmichaels and other so-called extremists whose views frightened those white liberals, who were offended by those independent thinking Black men and women who decided how best to wage their struggle against the forces of White supremacists. Furthermore, King argued that Black people could use politics to access power if they voted in unity on issues that were meaningful and could empower them financially. He urged African Americans to form alliances with progressive Whites and Puerto Ricans and vote together as a bloc for policies that equally benefited each group. “Black Power,” as a slogan, was problematic for King who was a philosopher and focused more on substance than rhetoric. Thus, Black Power in its most meaningful and beneficial aspect of uniting Black people to control their economic destiny was needed to “achieve legitimate power.”
Those who are interested in studying the philosophy of Dr. King must not stop at the 1963 Dream Speech, concluding his views were confined to the abstract. One must study the writings and speeches of King during the years 1965 to 1968, when his views dramatically changed and became in some ways inseparable from the pan Africanists. The post Dream King underwent a dramatic change and became more radicalized. For example, his views on integration underwent a radical change, reflected in his writings and speeches after 1965. Integration was not simply confined to petitioning the government to allow Black people to use the same restroom and water fountains as Whites, or even attending the same public schools and universities.
By 1968, King had long recognized that since the Brown decision in 1954, many southern schools remained segregated and that the federal government lacked the will and commitment to force them to comply with the law. After his view of integration had become devoid of its illusory cover, he was able to conduct an even deeper analysis of the potential of Black empowerment. If the schools would never fully integrate mattered little now because without real power, economic power, African Americans could never compete with the inhospitable forces that were arrayed against them. They needed economic power to overcome the ravishes. . .
Excerpts from Black Political Exodus 2020: How African American Politicians and White Liberals Destroyed the Black Community by Douglas E. Thomas.
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