Sunday, March 11, 2007

ML King's Radicalism emphasized in two books reviewed in Chicago Trib

Eric Arnesen, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, reviews two new books on Martin Luther King, Jr., in today's Chicago Tribune. The books are:

Arnesen begins:
When he was assassinated in April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. had gone to Memphis to lead a controversial community march in support of municipal sanitation workers who, weeks earlier, had gone out on strike. Hundreds of black men, recently affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, were demanding union recognition and protesting against their abysmally low wages, harsh working conditions and demeaning treatment at the hands of white supervisors.
The legislative victories of the civil rights movement in 1964 and 1965 may have ended legalized segregation and disenfranchisement, but they hardly touched the economic status of Memphis' black community....

Michael K. Honey's "Going Down Jericho Road" and Thomas F. Jackson's "From Civil Rights to Human Rights" explore a dimension of civil rights history-the struggle for economic rights and dignity-that has been treated as a subsidiary theme in the larger literature and national mythology, when it has been treated at all. The Memphis story of King and "the plight of the unemployed and poor people in America who worked `full-time jobs at part-time wages,' " Honey believes, "provides a window through which we can understand the struggles of the 1960s as well as the deep obstacles to King's dream of a united, peaceful, integrated, democratic America."
For Jackson, the Memphis strike and King's Poor People's Campaign mark the chronological end of his account, which is largely concerned with establishing King's economic radicalism and re-emphasizing his sharp critique of American foreign policy, both of which, he believes, have been forgotten, minimized, or misrepresented.
Together, Honey and Jackson advance a portrait of King and the civil rights movement that is far more radical than the common popular image conveyed by the endless repetition of the 1963 "I have a dream" speech.

For the rest of this excellent review, click here.