In order to make Dr. King suitable for mass (white) consumption, the media sanitized him so thoroughly that they've turned him into a magic negro of epic proportions. In a way, because he achieved the near-impossible in his lifetime and is arguably the reigning symbol of the civil rights movement, he is the ultimate magic negro. This is especially disturbing in light of the fact that towards the end of his life, he was considered a radical and a menace to the status quo. How did we get from there to here?
It was probably that one speech that everyone knows, the iconic "I Have A Dream" moment, the one that is the stuff of legend, the one that is played so often, it's become synonymous with who he is and what he believed, that really sealed things shut. Black and white children holding hands, the table of brotherhood, blah, blah, blah. How shocking it must be for some to see clips like the one below. He's a different Dr. King than the one we've been taught to know and love. He is angry, impassioned. Defiant, really. And black. Really really black -- and proud of it. We can see his hurt and despair. And his rage. Kind of makes you wonder what else they're not showing us, doesn't it. (Thank God for youtube.com!)
Why isn't this Dr. King ever quoted? You can certainly glimpse him in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail when the local clergy asked him to wait before he initiated another civil rights march:
We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.' But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: 'Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?'; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored'; when your first name becomes 'nigger,' your middle name becomes 'boy' (however old you are) and your last name becomes 'John,' and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Mrs.'; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Ah, Dr. King -- it's so nice to meet you...
PS: Here's something you should read very carefully: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You Don't See On TV.