Your sixth-grade social studies teacher has pushed a narrative about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that was simply a lie. They wanted you to think that our shining prince was weak, gentile and not about that life.
But there was absolutely nothing weak about Dr. King.
His position of non-violence was not only taken from the sacred scripture but also from keen military strategists like Sun Tzu who wrote this in the 5th Century BCE:
“One who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy’s walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare. His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact.”Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Illustrated (Chapter 3: Attack By Stratagem)
They would also let you think that Malcolm X and The Black Panthers were ruthless violent revolutionaries that hated white people and the police. Such mischaracterization has fueled generations of historical distrust and the muting of a generation of civil rights leaders.
Teaching like this has made the Civil Rights movement seem like a whole team of people of color who only wanted to desegregate and be with and like white people.
King was a revolutionary… Like Malcolm X but also like the Black Panthers and the Hip-Hop community.
What made King closer to the Black Panthers than Malcolm X was his commitment to poor people.
Right before he died in 1967, he started the Poor People’s Campaign, an anti-poverty crusade that showed the world that he had more socialist beliefs than the kumbaya democratic mores that he has been aligned with inside of your school textbook. One of his first initiatives was the Memphis Sanitation Strikers. He supported them and had plans on helping other low-income people with his platform.
Again, not only was he revolutionary… but he was gangsta with the strategy to get people to bend and bow.
Now how did this connect with The Black Panthers?
Despite what people claimed, The Black Panther Party was not an innately violent group. They believed in protecting themselves from the onslaught of violence perpetrated against the poor. But that was not their priority. They were a socialist organization established to extinguished poverty for all people, not just Blacks. They worked to do this by providing opportunities that would help themselves. They established projects that empowered the community like food programs and education institutes
They both were against senseless war and the abuse of people based on the social standing or race, as detailed in their 10 Point-Program.
King’s Poor People’s Campaign wanted to unite poor and exploited people across the country by giving them the tool of protest. The Black Panthers did also.
Both King and the Panthers were investigated by FBI and J. Edgar Hoover who worked to destroy their movement by spying on them, releasing rumors, getting people to flip and pushing drugs. King was never connected to any drug scandals, but drugs actually tour the original Black Panther movement apart.
What makes King more like the Hip-Hop community is the way he had an endurance that allowed him to go into spaces and make his mark, whether the larger community wanted them there or not. Hip-Hoppers have desegregated not only the charts and radio, but also America’s mainstream’s perception of Black people. Even with the overabundance of gangsterism, Hip-Hop has made people fall in love with a prince from West Philly to Belaire, allowed a guy from Queens with a mic tattooed on his arm and a former jheri curl wearing guy from South Central LA to creep their way all the way into their homes… all three of them becoming the most bankable actors in the world.
Hip-Hop used their voice of protest, to create an economic shift, affording Black and brown people access to wealth and financial freedom. This culture did it in ways the generation before could not, just like how King did for the generation before him.
King was more like both The Panthers and Hip-Hoppers than either of them were like Malcolm X.
Now an interesting switch is that while King and The Panthers are more similar than Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (X’s “enlightened self”) could very easily align himself in their ranks.
Black History as complicated and varied as it is similar and beautiful. And as we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, it is important that you work to expand your vision on him. He was more than a dreamer, he was a revolutionary.