MLK and Today's Global Struggle for DemocracyRoundup
tags: democracy, Martin Luther King Jr.
Randal Maurice Jelks is Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. Jelks is an author, documentary film producer, and scholar, as well as Presbyterian (USA) clergy. He is the author of four books including Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America.
“The shape of the world does not permit us the luxury of an anemic democracy,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated. Nonviolence, he understood, has never been about the absence of force. It has always been about getting to the negotiating table without massive death and destruction as we see around the globe today. To build a stronger democratic coalition among the world’s people, we must all be equally outraged by the horror of Russian imperialism in Ukraine while recognizing the racism that persons of African descent have faced while attempting to escape the perils of war. While looking abroad, we must also look at home at the violence exercised by sick young men filled with white supremacist ideology. Democratic struggles are never about one kind of innocent victim, one kind of refugee, or one archetypical portrayal of public worthiness. A robust democratic understanding must link various struggles around the globe.
In his own time, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this link. His global ministry calls us to see that the long-lasting false myths of racial superiority and hierarchy must not be given sanction anywhere. King’s vision was for us to create a better democratic majority through protest and negotiations. He believed this because democratic freedom struggles for the freedom of the self and of nations does not belong any one persuasion, but to the people of the world in every locale.
King’s 13-year political ministry was on the global stage from the outset. He opened his first speech on Dec. 5, 1955 at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., with this challenge:
We are here this evening for serious business. We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.
King recognized that he had been shaped by global forces commencing with the 1917 Russian Revolution, the 90-year Independence Movement within India, the United States’ entry into WWII, the rising African independence movements, and the ever-mutable anti-communist ideology as articulated in the militarism of the Truman Doctrine. King’s rise in the putative capital of the failed Confederate States of America, paralleled the political defeats of the African National Congress (ANC) with Nelson Mandela and his cohort being put on trial for treason by white South African nationalists in 1956.
King, alongside his band of black middle-class–clergy, college students, lawyers, small business proprietors, and blue-collar workers, barely avoided the fate of ANC leaders. Many Southern state politicians and administrative leaders intended to silence democratic protest through show trials and jailing. Even though King and his cohorts avoided life sentences such as the ANC leaders received, they still paid a heavy toll in terms of the trauma and vicious griefs caused by arsons, assassinations, bombings, murders, and surveillance.
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