On the national holiday that celebrates the birth of famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., the AP decided to remind us all that there was more to King than the popularized view of him affords. AP says that it is a shame that King has been "frozen in a moment in time that ignores the full complexity of the man and his message." Who can disagree with this? After all, very often notable historical figures end up being turned into cardboard cartoons known for that one "frozen moment" in history that made them famous.
But, even as the AP argues that we should learn more about the whole of MLK's life and take a more measured look at his life and works, the AP itself whitewashes several aspects of his real life. AP never mentions, for instance, his ties with communists nor do they mention Dr. King plagarized parts of his doctoral thesis. They don't mention his distrust of capitalism nor his support of the concept of special treatment and quotas, an idea that strays from his acclaimed position of "equal" treatment. So, the AP may want us to avoid putting Dr. King "on a pedestal of perfection," but it is also a fact that they only want us to know some of King's real record instead of all of it as they claim.
The AP has taken the occasion of King's holiday celebration to remind us all that the eeevil government was wary of him toward the end of his life, to tell us that "by taking on issues outside segregation, he had lost the support of many newspapers and magazines, and his relationship with the White House had suffered."
Yes, it is definitely true that King was not the universally loved character that he has been mythologized as today. And, we really should take the time to learn more about our famous American historical figures, just as the AP advises us to do. So, let's look a bit at some of King's warts to balance the gauzy portrait we are used to seeing.
Now let us be clear right off the top, here. King's whole record -- even that with which many of us will thoroughly disagree -- does not detract from the salient fact that he was a seminal leader in bringing the U.S. out of its racial oppression. His leadership was transformational for shining the light of liberty upon a segment of the country that was held back by ignorant custom and racial hatred. But, just as the AP urges, his whole life's record really should be known so that we can take a full measure of the man.
Let us start with the fact that Dr. King plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation from Boston University. As reported in 1991, a Boston University investigation concluded that King had plagiarized much of his dissertation. "King included in his dissertation a good deal of material taken verbatim from a variety of other sources without proper attribution (or any attribution at all), an act which constitutes plagiarism by any reasonable academic standard."
The University decided not to revoke his degree. After all, his iconic status would have made a target of the school by King's followers and the effort to reveal the truth and take measures that might have been leveled at any other student who had been so fraudulent in their dissertation would be troublesome at best. It was just easier for the university to forget the whole thing.
Obviously, Boston University wasn't too interested in the AP's advice to celebrate King's "complexity." And who can blame them?
King was also under surveillance by the FBI because he surrounded himself with known and vocal members of the Communist Party of the US. Several close King associates were openly communists. Stanley Levinson, Jack O’Dell, and Bayard Rustin (who stayed in close communication with Benjamin Davis) were all communists or past party members. King also frequently spoke before the National Lawyers Guild and Lawyers for Democratic Action, both of which were directly and openly tied to the Communist Party. He also attended seminars put on by the Highlander Folk School, another organization with Communist ties.
I will point out, though, that King himself was never successfully identified as a member of the communist party and he did denounce the Soviets early in his civil rights career, so to say King himself was an outright communist is a step too far to take. However, it is true that his cures for the past ill treatment of black Americans was increasingly leading down the road to socialist ideals.
For instance, King was not a capitalist, free marketeer and he had drifted toward racial quotas as he neared his final years of activism. In a 1968 Playboy interview, King said,"If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas." So, quotas was the remedy as far as Dr. King was concerned. His was an ideology of democratic socialism not "the American way."
So, in conclusion, let me say that I agree with the AP that we should learn more about the lives, writings and ideas of our historical figures, including Martin Luther King, Jr. But, I should rather think that the AP would want to reveal the whole man, warts and all, and not to further white wash his life if they really wanted to follow their own advice.
Clearly they don't, however.