FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reclaiming King Day … from the NAACP

by KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY

On January 13th I filed a request with the SC Budget and Control Board for use of the north side of the State House grounds on Monday January 15, 2007. The north side is where the Confederate flag flies. I was informed by officials at the agency that no application or written request had been made for the space at the time of my request.

Let me say that I considered filing for a permit for the past three years. All citizens have the right to petition government on the public square. The public space does not belong to any one group or person. And, no one group (in this state) owns the Martin Luther King Jr. franchise.

Many see MLK Day as a day to re-commit to King’s philosophy and work. Additionally, we believe that the purpose of the state’s soap box – the State House grounds–is to press forth demands on government consistent with King’s work. Our desire is to have a function more in keeping with King’s work and philosophy. Next year our rally will involve the groups and people who worked to make the official holiday a reality and those who wish to make concrete demands on the status quo and will work to make those demands a part of the political equation. We hope to put King, and the people, back into King Day.

Those aware of my history in Columbia know that I organized several of the marches and rallies at the State House to make King’s birthday a holiday prior to it becoming “official.” I coordinated the rally in mid-80s when Stevie Wonder spoke. The last MLK rally I helped to organize was in 1992. US Senator and presidential candidate Tom Harkin was a guest speaker at the event. I also organized many of the marches and efforts to protest apartheid in South Africa and advocacy for the release of Nelson Mandela. I have organized more marches and rallies than I can remember both inside and outside of South Carolina, in Columbia and across this state. But one thing has been consistent in the efforts I have been involved with–there has been a demand and/or advocacy for something specific.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine offered an observation particular to recent MLK State House celebrations. Many of the people and groups, who now organize the “social” marches and rallies, “did not participate (although they could have) in advocacy efforts for the MLK holiday and other such efforts when they were unpopular.” They may, at best, have an intellectual understand or, at worse, a pop culture understanding of King and his philosophy, but they have no operational or integrated understanding for fighting for social change.

At last year’s “King Day at the Dome,” the NAACP’s keynote speaker was a public official openly supportive of the death penalty. This year, although an overwhelming majority of African Americans oppose the Iraq War, no mention was made of the war. And, NAACP officials ignored a request by organized labor to place a sign-up table on the grounds so that citizens could support their petition access drive in the “red state” South. Of course the irony is that King was killed while organizing garbage workers and for his opposition to war.

In response to my request for the grounds, a local TV talk show invited me to speak as to why I filed in advance of the NAACP. I accepted the invite and on air I stated what I previously mentioned:

1) no group holds the franchise on the King Day Celebration. And while alive, King was not supported by the organization;

2) no group ought to be able to control public space indefinitely or in perpetuity.

In response to a request from the same newsperson to appear on air with me, Lonnie Randolph, state president of the NAACP referred to me as a “white folk loving socialist.”

Obviously, the socialist tag is red baiting. And, in that regard, Mr. Randolph has more in common with the traditions of Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover than of Martin Luther King, Jr.

For the record I am perhaps a small l libertarian if I were to try to categorize myself. I have given some thought to both anarchism and Marxism in my life. I have considered a range of philosophical, structural and political possibilities for confronting oppression and white supremacy in America. Fundamentally, I believe in workers having the right to organize, that government is responsible to help those in need and not be the instrument of maintaining a privileged elite. I support reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans and victims of government-sanctioned discrimination and/or redistributive economics.

W.E.B. Dubois, one of the founders of the NAACP and the Niagara Movement and perhaps the greatest intellectual giant produced in this country was a socialist.

As for “white-folk loving,” well, I try not to discriminate – personally or professionally – because of race. There are those who categorized King in the same way Mr. Randolph has attempted to damn me. Maybe Mr. Randolph should read the history of his organization as it was founded by both whites and black. Their highest organizational award the Spingarn Medal, is named after Joel Elias Spingarn, a white man and former board chair of the organization.

Perhaps the white folk who were on the NAACP King Day program in SC or who are on the board ought to be asking Mr. Randolph what he means by the categorization. Maybe the NAACP ought to return any contributions from white donors if he has such animus toward white people.

I do not now nor have I every thought that the NAACP was simply juxtaposition to the Klan. But when the leadership makes comments as such, that is what they are portraying.

My record of advocacy for respecting the human and civil rights of not just black people–but all people, is a matter of public record. That public record includes filing the original permit in 1990 with the Budget and Control Board to have the red, black and green “Liberation Flag” fly from the State Capitol Dome. That action forced the flag debate back into the legislature and began the active political process in which the flag was finally removed from the dome. That’s a part of the history people don’t read or hear about because such acts are about action not symbolism, rhetoric or fighting to see who gets credit.

At present, the SCACLU is not involved in this effort. However, it should go without saying that as state president of the organization I take the right of free speech and the right to appeal to government very seriously and will fight legally and publicly to maintain and defend that right should trickery be implored to attempt to deny my request.

The King Day celebration at the State House is a year away. We will spend the year organizing the event, not having a fight with the NAACP or a personal political fight with its president. But it is sad that the president has resorted to name calling because I have chosen to exercise my right as a citizen.

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY is a regular contributor to Counterpunch.com. You can read his latest published essay, “The Legacy of Strom Thurmond,” in American Monsters edited by Jack Neufield and available at Barnes and Noble. He can be reached at: kagamba@bellsouth.net

 

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics (CounterPunch/AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is the editor, along with JoAnn Wypijewski and Jeffrey St. Clair, of Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence from CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at kevinagray57@gmail.com

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail