Tag Archives: History

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Radical Legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. can serve as a Rorschach test for some people, who see in the civil rights leader’s legacy only what they want to see. Over the years, King’s legacy has been appropriated in service of a politics of “waiting one’s turn” — a politics that marks a striking departure from King’s own activism and the radical struggle for civil rights and beyond of which it was part.

As Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou wrote in Al Jazeera in 2014:

Martin Luther King Jr. is ubiquitous. A federal holiday, a monument and a plethora of schools and streets bearing his name have cemented his presence on the cultural landscape of the United States. Liberals and conservatives alike appropriate King’s language to adorn their political wardrobes and buttress their ideological constructions.

While the popular rendering of King is one of a civil rights leader who now enjoys widespread acceptability in American public discourse, his radical politics and his rough-edged critique of U.S. imperial adventures have been smoothed over. The real King was committed to a democratic socialist vision that germinated from his black church roots. Specifically, there are three pillars of the radical gospel of Martin Luther King Jr. that we should not allow holiday remembrances to whitewash: democratic socialism, transnational anti-imperialism and black prophetic Christianity.

Sekou goes on to explain:

King’s gospel affirmed black resistance as a form of human dignity and rejected forms of Christianity that favored peace without justice and complacency in the face of immorality. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he warned moderate clergy that unless they “recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity.” King draws heavily upon the black Christian social gospel, which emerges out of the history of black suffering in the United States. Although he became the most famous, he was but one of a great host of black Christian socialist witnesses, including the Rev. George Washington Woodbey, the Rev. Richard Euell and the Rev. George Slater Jr.

Read the full piece at Al Jazeera.

Birth of a Nation and Culturally Responsive Education

Last week at the Murphy Institute, I had the pleasure of meeting Erika Ewing, an Educational Engagement Strategist who works with the CUNY Creative Arts Team. She had just finished running a workshop which engaged high school students in rigorous conversation about the film “Birth of a Nation” following an arranged screening of the film for them at an AMC theater. 

In the piece below, Ewing discusses the responsibility of educators to be open and honest with youth about American history, the ways in which non-traditional approaches to education challenges young people to think constructively and critically and how promoting more open discussion of films like Parker’s “Birth of Nation” plays a seminal role.

— Zenzile Greene, Arts and Culture Editor


“Don’t let your past define your future.” It’s a quote we’ve all heard some version of before. But when we’re confronted with our own dark pasts, how easy is it to take this advice? Continue reading Birth of a Nation and Culturally Responsive Education

More Press for Black Silent Majority

Murphy Prof. Michael Fortner’s new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment has taken the media world by storm, garnering press from publications, radio and television. In addition to coverage in the New Yorker and Chronicle of Higher Ed, the book has been featured in the NYTimes and New York Magazine and on Brian Lehrer.

From Fortner’s own op-ed in the New York Times last week, The Real Roots of 70’s Drug Laws:

Today’s disastrously punitive criminal justice system is actually rooted in the postwar social and economic demise of urban black communities. It is, in part, the unintended consequence of African-Americans’ own hard-fought battle against the crime and violence inside their own communities. To ignore that history is to disregard the agency of black people and minimize their grievances, and to risk making the same mistake again.

New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner

Murphy Institute Professor Michael Fortner’s hotly anticipated new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment gains yet more coverage with the latest edition of the New Yorker. In Kelefa Sanneh’s review, Body Count, the writer places Fortner’s book in conversation with the latest from Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) as well as Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow:

This summer, the Black Lives Matter movement got a literary manifesto, in the form of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” (Spiegel & Grau), a slender but deeply resonant book that made its début atop the Times best-seller list[…]

Four decades ago, a number of black leaders were talking in similarly urgent terms about the threats to the black body. The threats were, in the words of one activist, “cruel, inhuman, and ungodly”: black people faced the prospect not just of physical assault and murder but of “genocide”—the horror of slavery, reborn in a new guise. The activist who said this was Oberia D. Dempsey, a Baptist pastor in Harlem, who carried a loaded revolver, the better to defend himself and his community. Dempsey’s main foe was not the police and the prisons; it was drugs, and the criminal havoc wreaked by dealers and addicts. Continue reading New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner

Pope Francis & the Moral Right to “Own Our Labor & Rent Our Capital”

A Growing Hybrid-Model-Movement Ripe for Political Consolidation

By Michael Peck

In America, the world of work has already changed beyond conventional wisdom sense perceptions and the willpower capacity of elected politicians to understand and embrace it. This workplace relationship tsunami, “a historic shift that rivals the transition from farms to factories,” calls out the anachronistic redlining between company and society, employee or independent contractor, worker versus manager, part-time as opposed to full-time, blue or white collar, as well as unions or work councils.

Today’s wrenching workplace issues — wage theft, eligibility for overtime pay, equalizing and standardizing worker classification, elevating minimum wage standards including the federal minimum wage, overtime protection, facilitating employees of contractors and franchise operations to achieve a collective bargaining agreement — constitute many of the most necessary but still wholly insufficient solutions to the problems at hand. The existential dilemma facing the world of work is that these problems together with traditional remedies have lost their time-space moorings.  Continue reading Pope Francis & the Moral Right to “Own Our Labor & Rent Our Capital”

#MovementEquality

By Tamara Robinson

I consider myself an ally to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and I am damn proud of it.

This can make me less proud of the labor movement I am so committed to due to its tendency to overlook the experiences of gay, lesbian, trans, queer, bi-sexual, gender questioning, and otherwise unconventionally-sexed individuals in the workplace in the fight for workers’ rights.

This tendency to overlook falls into an all-too-familiar pattern in which social movements fight for the empowerment of marginalized groups by waging a segmented battle for air time, resources, and legal wins. In this model, a “victory” carves out one minority population’s access to a right or institution from which they were previously excluded, with the hope that this will leave breadcrumbs so that the next group can take up the fight. Continue reading #MovementEquality