In yesterday’s post on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” I referenced an article from LewRockwell.com called Myths of Martin Luther King. Since it’s a fairly critical perspective on King, I didn’t want to just link to it without discussing it. I included it because it had King’s actual quote about “Democratic Socialism.”
Marcus Epstein, who was an undergraduate at William and Mary at the time he wrote it, notes the trend among conservatives to claim King as one of their own. He uses Michael Eric Dyson’s I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, which was influential in my understanding of King as well.
In my opinion, Epstein is right that King was not a conservative. He may have shared some conservative principles, especially with current conservatives, but he was definitely more on the liberal side of the political spectrum, especially in the 1960s when he challenged the established way of doing things. Also, his chronicling of King’s adultery is, sadly, true, although I have read that he believed it was sinful even while others told him it was fine. I can’t say for sure about the plagiarism issue as it has been a while since I read about that.
Yet there are a few troubling things about this article that I feel I should address. First, Epstein seems to excuse conservatives in King’s day for not supporting the civil rights movement. I think it’s a great thing that conservatives today consider the civil rights movement as a model, although they should understand the differences between their ideas and his.
Second, from what I have read, King did not have communist sympathies. He did have people with communist ties in his movement, but it also seemed that his opponents liked to tar him with accusations of communist sympathies. I don’t mean to impugn Epstein’s motives, but one of his links is from the Council of Conservative Citizens, which grew out of the old White Citizens’ Councils. I’ve always gotten the impression that these were basically the gentleman’s KKK. These were exactly the kind of organizations that called King a communist.
Finally, I think that his criticisms of King’s leftism focus more on his later years than the more optimistic early years. As I tried to show in yesterday’s post, there was a transition in his thought. I think that his shift to the left was completely understandable when so many opposed even a peaceful movement with violence and when equal laws turned out to leave people in poverty. Maybe not the best approach, but understandable, and perhaps not surprising given the splits in liberalism that occurred in the 1960s.
Anyway, I stand by my conclusions on King, but I wanted to address this article since I linked to it.