It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day on which far too many people vigorously whitewash a great social justice warrior’s legacy. See, we all know he was a good man, even a great man. We all know that opposing him shows you’re a disgusting, bigoted asshole. But he’s no good for the status quo warriors unless he’s been cherry-picked to oblivion.
They try to pull his fangs, folks, and then they demand we be more like their false idol of him. Fuck that.
Firstly, read the entirety of his Letter from a Birmingham Jail to see how he dealt with the don’t-let’s-rock-the-boat allies and the status quo warriors. If you don’t think he’d have been out there blocking freeways with Black Lives Matter activists and making the comfortable very uncomfortable indeed, you haven’t heard a word this man has actually said.
Secondly, here’s a selection of quotes that should leave you in no doubt that non-violent didn’t mean non-confrontational. His insistence on love didn’t mean asking the oppressors quietly and respectfully to please if it isn’t too much trouble to maybe consider stop oppressing people. He was out there making the comfortable damned uncomfortable. He was there to confront, not conciliate. He demanded justice. And he kept demanding, even though many people wanted him to just STFU. Listen:
You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.
Montgomery Bus Boycott speech, at Holt Street Baptist Church (5 December 1955)
To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother’s keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right. It is a way of allowing his conscience to fall asleep. At this moment the oppressed fails to be his brother’s keeper. So acquiescence-while often the easier way-is not the moral way. It is the way of the coward.
Three Ways of Meeting Oppression (1958)
We must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.
“Keep Moving from this Mountain” – Founders Day Address at the Sisters Chapel, Spelman College (11 April 1960)
We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. Indeed, we have brought forward the method of nonviolence to give an example of unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hope. In this way, labor’s historic tradition of moving forward to create vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition, and for the same reasons.
Speaking on right-to-work laws in 1961
It is true that behavior cannot be legislated, and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me, and I think that is kind of important.
Speech delivered in Finney Chapel at Oberlin College (October. 22, 1964)
It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”, sermon at the National Cathedral, 31 March 1968,
It is not a threat but a fact of history that if an oppressed people’s pent-up emotions are not nonviolently released, they will be violently released. So let the Negro march. Let him make pilgrimages to city hall. Let him go on freedom rides. And above all, make an effort to understand why he must do this. For if his frustration and despair are allowed to continue piling up, millions of Negroes will seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies. And this, inevitably, would lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Interview in Playboy (January 1965)
It is a trite yet urgently true observation that if America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Therefore, no American can afford to be apathetic about the problem of racial justice. It is a problem that meets every man at his front door.
The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousnes (1960)
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.
Strength to Love (1963)
It is easier for a Negro to understand a social paradox because he has lived so long with evils that could be eradicated but were perpetuated by indifference or ignorance. The Negro finally had to devise unique methods to deal with his problem, and perhaps the measure of success he is realizing can be an inspiration to others coping with tenacious social problems. In our struggle for equality we were confronted with the reality that many millions of people were essentially ignorant of our conditions or refused to face unpleasant truths. The hard-core bigot was merely one of our adversaries. The millions who were blind to our plight had to be compelled to face the social evil their indifference permitted to flourish.
Family Planning – A Special and Urgent Concern (1966)
Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government‘s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (1967)
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”
Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)
If you’ve reach the end of these quotes and still think he wouldn’t have been up to his elbows in social justice work right now, you’re too willfully ignorant for me to help you. Please just go away and shut up forever, and let the rest of us try to fix this mess.