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The Forgotten Teachings of Martin Luther King

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

Every year America pays tribute to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even little children can recite an oft-repeated phrase about "the content of our character."

Few Americans, however, are familiar with King's profound teachings on the very issue that is tearing our country apart – affirmative action. Without fear of accountability, politicians distort King's message and invoke his name for their own political gain.

Fortunately, there is one trustworthy authority on Dr. King - Martin Luther King himself. In recorded speeches, films, interviews, and books, King left us a clear record of support for social engineering to achieve integration.

In support of affirmative action, there is no body of literature more convincing, more relevant to our time, than the writings and speeches of Dr. King. (The essential works are contained in one large volume: Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King,, edited by James M. Washington, (Harper, 1986). Here are excerpts and quotes.

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On "Preferences"

Reporter: "Do you feel it's fair to request a multi-billion dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or any other minority?"

Dr. King: "I do indeed...Within common law, we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs. ... America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans...They could negotiate loans from banks to launch businesses. They could receive special points to place them ahead in competition for civil service jobs...There was no appreciable resentment of the preferential treatment being given to the special group." -- (Interview,1965, p.367)

"A section of the white population, perceiving Negro pressure for change, misconstrues it as a demand for privileges...The ensuing white backlash intimidates government officials who are already too timorous." -- "Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast" (p.177)

Realistic Approach

"Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic." -- 1964, Why We Can't Wait.

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro..." quoted by Stephen B.Oates, Let The Trumpet Sound.

Equality is not an Abstraction

"Anatole France once said: 'The law in its majestic equality forbids all men to sleep under benches -- the rich as well as the poor...France's sardonic jest expresses a bitter truth. Despite new laws, little has changed...The Negro is still the poorest American -- walled in by color and poverty. The law pronounces him equal -- abstractly -- but his conditions of life are still far from equal." -- "Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast", 1964 (p. 176-177).

"Although the terms desegregation and integration are used interchangeably, there is a great deal of difference between the two...Desegregation simply removes legal and social prohibitions. Integration is creative...more profound and far reaching than desegregation...

" the welcome participation of Negroes into the total range of human activities...Desegregation is not enough; integration alone is consonant with our national purpose." -- "Ethical Demands for Integration" ,1963, (p.118).

Something Positive Needed

"Something positive must be done... In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man -- through an act of Congress it was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and Midwest -- which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor...Not only that, it provided agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every year not to farm.

"And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps...

"We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice." -- "Remaining Awake," 1968 (271).

Multiracial Society

"White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo...This is a multi-racial nation where all groups are dependent on each other...There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity." -- Where Do We go From Here, 1967 (588-)

"The problem of race remains America's greatest moral dilemma. When one considers the impact it has upon the nation, its resolution might well determine our destiny. ..The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro is the price of its own destruction." -- "Ethical Demands of Integration," 1963 (p.117).

Paul Rockwell is a columnist for In Motion Magazine. He can be reached at

Published in In Motion Magazine January 21, 2003.

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