As this country commemorates the legacy of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this Monday, Jan. 18, a closer look is taken at aspects of his legacy often overlooked by the general public. While the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner will eternally be linked to non-violence, he was also a staunch adversary of the exploitive system of capitalism. Born in Atlanta, Ga. Jan. 15, 1929 and martyred at 39-years-young, some analysts contend his overt opposition to capitalism is the real reason he was assassinated.
Three-and-a-half years prior to rising to national prominence as one of the primary figures during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Dec. 1, 1955-Dec. 20, 1956), in a letter to his wife, Coretta Scott-King, dated July 18, 1952, the 23-year-young preacher writes: “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive, but like most human systems, it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”
He addressed the topic again during the AFL-CIO’s Negro American Labor Council, Dec. 1, 1961: “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children,” he pleaded.
Although the core of his dissertations focused on attempting to assimilate with his oppressors, he often sprinkled them with demands for economic equality, such as during a 1966 message to his staff: “[W]e are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
During a March 30, 1967, speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Atlanta, Ga., he noted: “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”
Then, during a report at the very same location, in May 1967, he suggested: “We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power, this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together. You can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others, the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”
While delivering the dissertation titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” at the same spot, on Aug. 16, 1967, Dr. King commented: “And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”
Adding: “Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”