America’s greatest hero: Martin Luther King Jr

On the occasion of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I think it’s important to compare his accomplishments to that of others lionized in our culture as heroes.


Known for leading the revolution against the British to give a new nation a chance to exist, Washington was a slave owner, disqualifying him, one would think, as the nation’s greatest hero.


Lincoln is called the great emancipator, but in truth he often used the word “nigger” in his speeches and by today’s standards would be known as a racist.  Two years before the Civil War ended, he allowed that he would keep slavery if he could keep the union together.  It was called “the Union Army,” not the emancipation army.


King fought a war as brutal as Washington’s Revolution or Lincoln’s Civil War when you consider the suffering of Black Americans and their ancestors, but unlike Washington or Lincoln, King did not use violence to achieve results.

King should be given credit for demolishing American apartheid, although, sadly, he wasn’t able to end racism, his longer dream.  Voting and a great many other rights were enabled for people of color. We no longer have separate facilities by race, largely because of the movement led by MLK.

King knew what was in store for him, and we know that from his words, “I may not get there with you.”  It was a foregone conclusion in those days that a Black man raising consciousness against racism, war, and the suffering of the working class, would likely be murdered.

Decades ago I attended a local gathering in honor of King’s birthday, where I heard a Black teen say to his friends that Martin Luther King Jr. was an “Uncle Tom.”  I was not in a good mood and tongue-lashed the young man, asserting that Uncle Toms don’t get beaten, thrown in jail, wiretapped, have their house bombed or get murdered for their actions.  I remember an elderly Black man at that event walking over and putting his arm around me in agreement, tears of remembrance running down his face.

Jack Balkwill has been published from the little read Rectangle, magazine of the English Honor Society, to the (then) millions of readers USA Today and many progressive publications/web sites such as Z Magazine, In These Times, Counterpunch, This Can’t Be Happening, Intrepid Report, and Dissident Voice. He is author of “An Attack on the National Security State,” about peace activists in prison.

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