Monday, January 20, 2014

“What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter
if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

Over the years, Martin Luther King’s more controversial edges have been smoothed over. He was a strident critic of capitalism and materialistic society. Referring to the now iconic Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins, he asked, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

King also explicitly linked the problem of capitalism with the problem of racism. “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” he argued in a speech at Riverside Church in 1967. He was very aware that this kind of challenge was even more dangerous than his work on segregation and civil rights. “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums,” he warned his staff in 1966. “You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.”

Read "4 Ways Martin Luther King Was More Radical Than You Thought" here.

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