“So often in America we have socialism for the rich and ragged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.”
—Martin Luther King
Through research I have come to see just how deeply hated Muhammad Ali was by the vast majority of Americans in the mid-1960s (for instance he was loudly booed in his 1965 rematch, as Champion of the World, when he fought Sonny Liston a second time), and how we have forgotten that fact.
It is therefore with interest that I read today Mike Marqusee‘s piece for the Guardian on Martin Luther King’s legacy, where he points out the same effect of historical eradication.
It seems if we sanitize the right aspects of a “hero’s” past, citizens slowly forget just how much ‘Power’—whatever that is exactly—and the media loathe and will counter freedom of speech, non-violence, racial and economic equality and so on, when they are outside the acceptable boundaries of certain ideological and economic interests.
It’s testimony to the awkward power of Martin Luther King’s life and work that so much effort has gone into sanitising his memory. Today he’s commemorated as an apostle of social harmony, a hero in the triumphant march of American progress. But at the time of his death 40 years ago today, his increasingly radical challenge to war and poverty had made him deeply controversial, spied on and harassed by his government, feared and loathed by millions of Americans…
I use the word Power advisedly, to be sure. I could not believe what big-name sportswriters wrote about Ali, too, in the mid-sixties. In Nat Fleischer’s Ring Magazine, Ali was still being called Cassius Clay in 1972.
In 1966 Ali was not named Fighter of the Year because of his negative influence on American youth. At the same time, I have read so many times how Ali’s words made a black person literally feel beautiful for the first time in their life—but that is not the influence sought, evidently.
Ali may have effected the willingness of some young kid (many with limited freedom in their own town) to be drafted and contribute his body, mind and machine gun fire to the invasion and all-encompassing demolition of a country he knew nothing about. Or as Ali himself summed up with profound if accidental concision in early 1966:
“I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong.”
Black soldiers on the front lines in Vietnam largely opposed Ali’s and Martin Luther King’s anti-war stance in 1967, and they largely agreed with them by 1969. And so goes life, when enough is just too damn much, at least for those in the line of fire.
Or to quote George Orwell:
All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
My point is how strangely anti-Establishment dissidents (and I use the word Establishment advisedly, too) in the past are glorified in the present by that same Establishment—leading us all, by not knowing the history, unable to recall why and how they were despised in the first place.
And if you think ‘Power’, under pressure, has changed, well, yes, Barbara Lee again.
In Acts in the New Testament, one could conclude many early Christians (or perhaps radical Jews) lived communally, and shared everything!—those socialist freaks.
Put another way, as David Rovics sings, Who Would Jesus Bomb? (I felt tears well up as I listened).
I feel the same head shake (but in the opposite direction), as I have written lately, with the legacies of Tiger Beat teen T-shirt pin-up Che Guevara and others amongst certain counter-culture folk.
But hey, that’s just moi.
Another excerpt from Marqusee:
In 1967, [King's] opposition to the war in Vietnam had been denounced by mainstream civil rights leaders and liberal opinion-makers, including The New York Times. While he agreed with the militants that the [Civil Rights] movement had to enter a new, more ambitious phase, he continued to advocate both non-violence and inter-racial alliances.
“We don’t enlist races in the movement. We enlist consciences. And anybody who wants to be free, and to make somebody else free, that’s what we want.
Expand, my friends, expand…it’s such a big world out there, with billions of others similarly-confined by their human nature (and then all that follows). Lots of love to you and yours, in joy and solidarity,
And here’s Wide Open, you beautiful sisters and brothers, here and gone.