Rescuing MLK From the Burger King Coloring Book

Ladies and gentlemen, get your Martin Luther King here! He’s new and improved, tastes great, less filling, defanged, declawed, whitewashed, sanitized, perfumed, trivialized and diluted. He’s dishwasher safe, and will not give your children bad liberal ideas. No controversy! No relevance!

It was Martin Luther King Day, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The local McDonald’s had hung a huge picture of King on the wall and the Burger King was giving away MLK coloring books.

[Note: This piece was written back during the GW Bush Administration. A different President … different faces in Congress … but same old, same old]

I think King would have hated that, since those corporations have come to symbolize the low-wage, dead-end job, and they’ve lobbied hard against increasing the minimum wage.

John Kass wrote a column in the Chicago Tribune, praising King, but saying that King’s followers dishonor his memory by advocating for affirmative action. Oh really?

Fight over Kings corpse

Then, it got really weird. George Bush and the Republicans were having a tug of war with the Democrats. Each party claimed that if he were alive today, King would surely belong to their party.

Bush proclaimed the Republicans were once again the party of Abraham Lincoln—at least for a couple of days. I guess he was hoping we would forget the Republicans had mothballed old Abe and declared Ronald Reagan to be their god. Reagan had earned the honor for eight years of vicious class warfare that left a few people very rich—and many very miserable.

For their part, the Democrats seemed to hope we would forget they had long ago abandoned the New Deal and the Great Society to become the party of the spineless. They barely whimper as the Republicans commit one atrocity after another against the middle class and the poor.

I doubt King would have changed his mind about what he once said: “Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice.”

The kind of people now trying to snuggle up with King the dead man didn’t have nice things to say about him when he was alive. He was called a “troublemaker,” a “Communist,” and “the most dangerous Negro in America.” How could anyone believe that King would be palling around with people like George Bush and Joe Lieberman?

Of course, they aren’t talking about the real King. They have tampered with history to recreate King as a bland, passionless man that will neither challenge nor offend them. You might call him MLK Light.

But there are some not-so-subtle differences between MLK Light and the real man.

MLK Light is happy as a clam that segregation laws have been repealed and America has conquered its race problems.

The real King knew that segregation was only the tip of a vast iceberg of racism and oppression. King once said of the lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina:

… had the demonstrators been served, some of them could not have paid for the meal. Of what advantage is it to the Negro to establish that he can be served in integrated restaurants, or accommodated in integrated hotels, if he is bound to the kind of financial servitude which will not allow him to take a vacation or even to take his wife out to dine? Negroes …must also be absorbed into our economic system in such a manner that they can afford to exercise that right.


MLK Light is a freedom-loving guy who supports our commander in chief as he sends in the troops to bring freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and Iran, Liberia and Siberia, and if need be, to Australia and Canada and New Mexico.

The real King was an early and vocal opponent of the Vietnam war, despite the heavy consequences. President Johnson was furious. The nation’s press crucified him. He lost support within his own movement. But King continued to say, the war is wrong—in words that ring true today.

I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation.

A nation that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Poor MLK Light is so confused that he can’t even remember what he was doing in Memphis when he was assassinated.

That’s important to know in times like these when corporate executives rake in the cash while their workers struggle to keep a roof over their heads. In times like these when politicians never miss the chance to give organized labor a kidney punch, it is important to remind them—and ourselves—that King was in Memphis to support the support a strike by the city sanitation workers. King gave them dignity, saying,

One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker, if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant … It is criminal to have people working full-time jobs for part-time income.


MLK Light only said one memorable sentence, “I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He carries a banner with those words whenever he makes public appearances as the poster boy for the forces attacking affirmative action.

The real King believed that African Americans have contributed a lot more than they have gotten out of this country, and it was time to settle the account. This was especially true since the government had so often assisted others.

At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest to white peasants from Europe.

But not only did they give them land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them to farm.

Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming.

Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms.

Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm, and they are the very people telling the black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.


King proposed a massive government program to lift up the poor: black, white, Latinos, and others. King demanded change, in the spirit of an outraged Jesus, whip in hand, overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. He proposed a revolution of values, a radical restructuring of our institutions, and a redistribution of the nation’s wealth.

No wonder they killed him

It is time to rescue Martin Luther King from the Burger King comic book and the wall of McDonald’s. and the conservative politicians trying to remake him in their own image.

As we try to find our way out of the many problems facing our nation, we could hardly do better than to study the life and the words and the mission of this remarkable man who challenged us to live up to our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and to truly make ourselves One Nation Under God.

This man saw the promised land from the mountaintop and wasn’t afraid to die to help us get there.

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