Prof says King’s focus was evolving after ‘I Have a Dream’ speech
By Ed Runyan
Dr. George Garrison, professor of Pan African Studies at Kent State University, told an audience at the university’s Trumbull campus that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of 1968 was different from the man who delivered one of the nation’s great speeches nearly 50 years ago.
“Most of us know the Dr. King of the ‘I Have a Dream speech,’” he said Monday at the campus’s Black History Month program. “But Dr. King lived another five years after that. While his ideas and what he said are consistent throughout his lifetime, they did not remain static. They evolved and changed as the history of that period changed.
“While initially his concerns were more domestically focused on issues of African-Americans in the United States of America and the conditions they dealt with here, in his later years his concern expanded beyond the United States of America as he began to analyze the foreign policy of this nation and the condition of other peoples throughout the world.”
In the early years, he was a reformer, and the “I Have a Dream” speech was an example of this, Garrison said.
But between August 1963 and his death in 1968, the country changed considerably with the rise of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary organizations.
King began to focus more on U.S. poverty and violence in our nation and abroad.
“King is going to transition from his position as a reformer in 1963 to a revolutionary in 1967 and 1968. This is the Martin Luther King Jr. that has slipped through the cracks,” he said.
Garrison said the roots of King’s philosophy are in the experiences of the first African-Americans, whose struggle for abolition of slavery was strengthened by the Bible, which contains stories of others facing similar challenges.
“Dr. King felt the weight of this tradition and understood the dual role of the black minister as both secular and spiritual leader,” he said.
“Dr. King thought it was a moral, social and spiritual obligation to be concerned about others and to live together in peace and harmony,” he said.
King influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to “attempt to establish the ‘Great Society,’ a nation free of poverty with all citizens enjoying the benefits of wealth with equal opportunity to all,” Garrison said.
When King, Bobby Kennedy and others died, “the dream these individuals had died with them, unfortunately. The great society of President Johnson was vilified by the next administration of President Richard Nixon. He began the process of dismantling Johnson’s great society,” which included on-the-job and vocational training, Garrison said.
When King was killed, he was organizing the “poor people’s campaign,” answering an invitation by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., who were striking for better wages.
“He thought it was contradictory for people to call themselves Christians and hoard the wealth,” Garrison said. In King’s view, “It would be inconceivable that people would oppose President Obama’s health-care initiative to extend health care to 30 million to 40 million people without health care,” he added.