Unemployment & poverty in U.S.

King declared that the report by the National Commission on Civil Disorders (February 1968) was “a physician’s warning of the approaching death of American society, with a prescription to life.” It showed how “the lives, the incomes, the well-being of poor people everywhere in America are plundered by our economic system.

“We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty,” he said. “Flame throwers in Vietnam fan the flames in our cities. I don’t think the two matters can be separated.” [404-05]

Racism in America

In a sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church at the beginning of July 1967, King seemed to foresee the conflagration that would engulf over a hundred cities by the month’s end.

“America is a great nation,” he shouted out, but if America doesn’t deal with its racism, “I’m convinced that God will bring down the curtains on this nation, the curtains of doom.

“You know,” he said, “there are times that you reap what you sow in history.” He pounded his big King James Bible on the pulpit. “I believe it! Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. America must resolve this race problem, or this race problem will doom America.”

“We’ve got to make it known,” he told a Birmingham rally in November 1967, “that until our problem is solved, America may have many, many days, but they will be full of trouble. There will be no rest, there will be no tranquility in this country, until the nation comes to terms with our problem.” [369]

Like the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah whom he personified, he believed he was speaking God’s own words in calling Americans to repent in order to ward off a racial Armageddon, a second Civil War.He had habitually used rich metaphors of darkness as a rhetorical device. But now when he said it was “midnight in our world today,” he meant it. “We are experiencing a darkness so deep,” he told a Los Angeles congregation, “that we can hardly see which way to turn.”

He clung to his faith, however, that the divine force was buried in the deepest darkness. That if he carried his candle of faith deeper and still deeper into the heart of darkness, the darkness at the heart of life, he would discover the blinding light at the center of God’s creation, the fire at the core of his own soul. Like ebony skin, the darkest dark emitted the brightest glow. The dark, absorbing all light, was not the absence but the fullness of light. But the light in deepest darkness was invisible to the mortal eye.

He quoted Victor Hugo, whose Les Miserables was his favorite novel: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”

The leaders of white society caused the darkness. “They created discrimination. They created slums. They perpetuate unemployment, ignorance, and poverty.” The crimes of the rioters were “derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.

“Let us say it boldly, that if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and were compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.” Congress, which dutifully spent billions on the Vietnam War but had refused paltry millions to free children from rats, “is now running amuck with racism.” [348-49]

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