A 'True Revolution of Values'
Martin Luther King, Jr., warned America about the danger of unquestioning national pride. How far have we come?
BY: Michael Eric Dyson
Earlier, in his landmark oration "A Time to Break Silence," delivered at New York's Riverside Church in 1967 exactly one year before he was assassinated, King insisted on internationalism over nationalist sentiment. King contended that "such a call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men."
At the end of King's sermon, appropriately titled "The Drum Major Instinct," which dissected the impulse of individuals to be supreme and of nations to rule the world, King declared that "the God I worship has a way of saying, 'Don't play with me. Be still and know that I'm God. And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power.' And that can happen to America."
Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s role as a dissenter and prophet never diminished his patriotism. True patriots love their country enough to tell it the truth. King never confused a healthy patriotism with a myopic nationalism that often wrapped ethnic bigotry and racial terror in a flag-and around a cross.
We must not forget that even Martin Luther King, Jr., was targeted by the FBI for electronic surveillance because he represented a threat to our democracy. King's office, home, and hotels were tapped. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover contended that such surveillance would prove that King was a communist who sought to undermine the American government. King was indeed a radical democrat who sought to force America, as he stated the night before he died, to "Be true to what you said on paper."
But this legendary American hero was subject to vicious, antidemocratic procedures in the name of protecting the government. The surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. only hurt our government in the long run, because it failed to concede the legitimacy and political usefulness of dissent. It is chilling to remember that Robert Kennedy, who was then the attorney general, authorized the wiretaps, with the full knowledge of President John F. Kennedy.
King's vision of a "radical revolution of values," which he spoke of in "A Time to Break Silence," grew from "the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions." King argued that a "true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of our past and present policies."
King summarized his views in a poignant passage that is a prophetic warning against the vice of narrow national self-interest and the sin of unquestioning national pride:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.' It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: 'This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.' A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. . . . A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.