Race & Ethnicity


Date: Sat, 11 Dec 1993 08:14:32 GMT

From: Rich Winkel

To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L

Subject: Clinton Puts Words In ML King's Mouth

Preaching to black ministers assembled in Memphis on November 13, President Clinton told them--and the nation--what Martin Luther King would say about ghetto violence if he were now to return twenty-five years after being assassinated. Like a ventriloquist, the President put these words in Dr. King's mouth: "I did not live and die to see young people destroy their own lives with drugs and then build fortunes destroying the lives of others.... I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandonment." King's gospel, according to the President, seems to be that the main cause of ghetto violence is the inhabitants of the ghetto.

If President Clinton believes this is what King would have said on this subject, he must not remember what King did say in his great April 4, 1967, speech at Riverside Church in New York City:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.... They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government.

President Clinton professed that King would be surprised by what he would see today. But in fact King argued that "the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit," caused by being on "the wrong side of a world revolution":

Increasingly...this is the role our nation has taken--by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.... When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

President Clinton's main theme, enunciated in his opening sentence, was "the great crisis of the spirit that is gripping America today." Speaking for himself, Martin Luther King elo- quently named and predicted this crisis: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."


H. Bruce Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University, Newark.

This article is reprinted with permission from the December 6, 1993 issue of The Nation magazine. (c) 1993 The Nation Company, Inc.

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