4 Ways Martin Luther King Was More Radical Than You Thought
The slain civil rights leader was a critic of capitalism, the Vietnam War, and championed reproductive rights.
By Igor Volsky / ThinkProgress January 20, 2014, 7:32 AM GMT
Every January, Martin Luther King, Jr. is universally honored as a national hero who preached a peaceful fight against racial injustice. This saintly image is quite a departure from the kind of attacks the reverend endured over his lifetime. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover famously called King “the most dangerous Negro” and “the most notorious liar in the country” while keeping him under close surveillance. Over the years, Dr. King’s more controversial edges have been smoothed over, burying his more radical teachings.
1. He pushed for a government-guaranteed right to a job. In the years before his assassination, King re-shifted his focus on economic justice in northern cities as well as the South. He launched the Poor People’s Campaign and put forth an economic and social bill of rights that espoused “a national responsibility to provide work for all.”
2. He was a critic of capitalism and materialism. King was a strident critic of capitalism and materialistic society, and urged Americans to “move toward a democratic socialism.” Referring to the now iconic Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins, he asked, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”
3. He denounced the Vietnam War. King’s harsh words on the Vietnam War alienated even his allies on civil rights, especially President Lyndon B. Johnson. Still, King continued to speak out, asserting that American involvement in Vietnam “has torn up the Geneva Accord” and “strengthened the military-industrial complex.” He also accused the U.S. of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
4. He championed Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights. King believed that the spread of family planning was a crucial tool in the fight to end poverty and racial inequality.