I was angry with you. My entire childhood I was taught about your bold and courageous dream. I read about you in the textbooks, wrote the essays, watched the PBS specials and would quote your words as best I could. In my grandmother’s home, there was a picture above the heater so we were face to face for much of the winter time. I remember you Dr. King.
When I was born, everyone was still polarized by your untimely death. As a matter of fact, in my community you were a part of a cultural trinity. There was God. Then came Jesus. Then came Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In that order.
I was angry with you. We sang with Stevie Wonder (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YA!) when America made your birthday a holiday. I knew it was a sign that things would change. I knew it was a sign that the drugs in my community were on their way out and the poverty in my world would somehow turn into equality. Every time I complained about police brutality, they would just point at you and tell me, “be like Dr. King.” The picture above the heater began to wither from all the years of rising heat. As the winters passed, I grew older. I grew stronger. I grew sharper. I grew bitter. And I got tired.
I was angry with you. When I became more conscious of the world around me, they could no longer point to your picture to calm my rage. I became vocal. I became aggressive. Sometimes violent. So they pointed me to something different. A friend put in my hands the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Then, the ISIS Papers by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing. Then, The Destruction of Black Civilization. Then, The Message to the Blackman.
I realized that the picture above the heater was just a distraction. He was weak. Malcolm, Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey; these were strong. I started calling you Martin Luther Queen. Yeah, it was like that. I felt betrayed.
I was livid with you. You were the anti-Malcolm. You wanted integration, when Elijah Muhammad called for separation. You wanted to turn the other cheek. Elder Black women and children were attacked by dogs and water hoses under your leadership. Nobody was there to defend them. You advocated that we spend our money with our White brothers and sisters, when our White brothers and sisters never reciprocated. So our businesses closed down. I heard The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and joined the ranks of the Nation of Islam. I was done with you, Dr. King.
Then one day, while in the mosque, I found a box filled with lectures. When I saw they had your name on them I dismissed them. Then a brother told me to listen to one of them. It was your speech, “Why I Oppose the Vietnam War.” I was shocked at your conviction. I was stunned by your revolutionary oratory. This is not the man in the picture above the heater that they taught me about in public school. The picture above the heater was a picture THEY painted. What did I miss? Speaking the way you spoke out against the war in the 1960’s could get you killed. Then I thought “maybe it did.” I had to dig deeper.
After further research, I found out that the man you were in your latter years had an evolved outlook on the struggle. Just as I had grown sharper and wiser, so had you. I found out that the government of America felt they could no longer trust you. You had awakened from “The Dream.” So they used the FBI to spy on you and your family. They followed you every place you went. They don’t even deny it. They inserted operatives in your organization to try and destabilize your progress. They threatened to expose your “alleged” extramarital affairs if you did not compromise your position; and you stood strong. They encouraged you to commit suicide; but you stood strong. You embraced the Panthers and went so far as to have a sit-down about nation building with The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. They did a lot of dirty things to you brother. Why was I angry with you, my brother? I should have been angry with them. But, I swear, I did not know. I just did not know.
As I dug through history, I realized that the Dr. King that they gave me was a sanitized, manufactured, “whiterized” (I just made that word up) and carefully marketed weak version of a true drum major for justice. Just because you embraced non-violence does not mean you weren’t a fighter.
It wasn’t until the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March that the younger generation learned that in your last speech you made a call to “redistribute the pain” through the form of an economic boycott. Minister Farrakhan instructed the youth to study the latter years of your life, along with the ideas they hid and the dirt they did to you and your family. My anger turned to honor. My disappointment with you turned into reverence, once I understood.
I heard your good friend Harry Belafonte tell the story of how you expressed your fear of the outcome of integration. You said “I fear we are integrating our people into a burning house (America).” Those words proved prophetic.
Then I studied your last speech. I listened to it over and over again.
The threats on your life, at that time, were unreal. You knew enough about the enemy to know that you wouldn’t live too much longer. I heard the fear in your voice being drowned out by your love for Black people. I heard it. All you had to do was say what your enemies wanted you to say, but you kept to your convictions. I respected that. It’s one thing to talk about dying for what you believe in; it’s something else to see somebody do it.
My brother, Dr. King, I sincerely apologize for passing judgment on you in my younger years. I was deceived by THEIR version of OUR KING.
Forgive me brother. Please, forgive me my brother.