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From Organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to hosting a Corporate Breakfast: The Uses and Abuses of Dr. King’s Legacy

January 8, 2018

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And this year, like most years since the federal government began to celebrate the Black Freedom Fighter’s birthday, Dr. King’s legacy will be miss used, appropriated and whitewashed by all sorts of entities and systems of oppression.

Federal, State and Local governments will misrepresent King’s legacy with calls for diversity and unity, when in fact Dr. King was so much more than that. If one looks at his evolution, from civil rights leaders to the black liberation struggle, it is clear that King had changed from the days of calling for integration to embracing a more prophetic role in calling out the violence and structural racism that was (and is) so woven into US society.

In his 1967 speech, Which Way Its Soul Shall Go, Dr. King didn’t mince words about racism in America, when he said:

“I am sorry to have to say that the vast majority of white Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously.”

Dr. King began to see in the years just before he was assassinated that racism wasn’t just a problem in the deep south. After 1965, when he moved his operations to the north and opened an office in Chicago, he began to deepen his critique of racism and white supremacy. Dr. King also began to expand on his use of tactics and strategies to challenge what he would refer to as the Evil Triplets of American society – Racism, Militarism and Capitalism.

During the 1966 Chicago urban campaign, Dr. King stated:

We’ll use something that avoids violence, but becomes becomes militant and extreme enough to disrupt the flow of the city. I know it will be rough on them when they have to get 200 people off the Dan Ryan expressway, but the only thing I can tell them, which do you prefer, this or a riot.”

In 1967, in his Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr. King referred to the US as the, “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King’s stance against the Vietnam war was even criticized in civil rights circles as being a divisive issue.

Besides racism and militarism, King began to also critically examine the economic system of capitalism. This was especially the case after 1965, where King became more strident in his denunciation of economic exploitation and began to demand massive reparations for black America, in what he called a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial.” This call for reparations is what motivated his involvement in the last campaign he organized, the Poor People’s Campaign.

The Poor People’s Campaign was not only based on the idea of massive reparations, but on King’s sharp critique of economic exploitation, which he named as capitalism. Here is what Dr. King had to say:

Considering all of what Dr. King had to say about racism, militarism and capitalism, it was rather disappointing to see that the Grand Rapids Urban League would be hosting their 18th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Corporate Breakfast

How is it, that anyone could use the name of Dr. King and then add, Corporate Breakfast. How does one engage in this kind of cognitive dissonance? Do people really believe that Dr. King would want to be associated with corporations?

The main sponsors of the Corporate Breakfast that is meant to honor the man who challenged capitalism are, Steelcase, Spectrum Health/Priority Health, Chemical Bank, Mercantile Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Comerica Bank. Then there is the cost of the tables to purchase. A Platinum Sponsorship can get you a table of 30 for a mere $10,000, Gold Sponsorship will pay for 20 people with a price tag of $5,000, Silver Sponsorship $2,500, Bronze Sponsorship $1,250 and Angel Sponsorship $1,000.

I’m not sure how one gets from denouncing capitalism, calling for massive reparations and organizing a poor people’s campaign, to hosting a corporate breakfast.

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