His name is on millions of lips, in dozens of countries.
His image, youthful, strong and handsome, radiates from thousands of walls, in Black communities across the country – and beyond.
His voice, confident, learned, softly couched in the accents and rhythms of the South, and is instantly recognized, as among the finest orators of the 20th century.
I write, of course, of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and although all of these things are so, it is also true that the man, who is so well-known, is also so little known, for he was, too, a complex man. And Americans want simplicity, not complexity.
He, as with all living, thinking beings, changed, developed and deepened as life taught him lessons that schools could not.
As ever, his Riverside Speech* is little known, but because of what he said at that church in New York City, his fair-weather friends, political allies, and doting media deserted him, denounce him, and left him open to the lonely death that stalked him.
In the words of historian/scholar/activist and theologian, Dr. Vincent Harding, King was the “Inconvenient Hero”, for he was on a radical trajectory that inspired his Riverside Speech, where he denounced militarism, corporate greed, political betrayal of the impoverished, and yes – capitalism.
For this, he made few friends, and grew numerous enemies.
He, at Riverside, called war “an enemy [of] the poor”, and a “cruel manipulation of the poor.”
He, at Riverside, called for a “revolution of values”, which would “look across the seas and see individual capitalist of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ “
Or else, he warned, people would be demonstrating against foreign wars for generations.
How right he was.
That’s not the King we see on TV, nor the one we hear on radio.
That’s not the man portrayed in movies.
That, in Harding’s words, would be “inconvenient.”
But that was the man that was.