Saturday, February 13, 2016


If you're looking for a hero lesson instead of a history lesson, this is not that post. I posted the hero lesson on Martin Luther King's actual birthday, January 15th. 
Here's the link:

THIS repost 
is a more three dimensional history of Dr. Martin Luther King. This post is about MLK's legacy for black girls and black women.

“Doc thought of a wife as a support worker, not a partner,” says Garrow, whose [Pulitzer Prize winning] book details Coretta Scott King’s frustration with her husband’s insistence that she devote all her energy to her family." 
“I remember [ranking Southern Christian Leadership Conference member] Dorothy Cotton saying to me in 1979 or 1980 that if Martin had lived, he would have had an awful lot of growing up to do on gender issues.”
Read More: 

"To be fair, there are moments in which King shows gender enlightenment:  
To a mother of seven who wrote in complaining that her husband wouldn’t use birth control. King said, “It is a serious mistake to suppose that it is a religious act to allow nature to have its way in the sex life . . . women must be considered more than ‘breeding machines.... 
And after a stay-at-home mom lamented that her husband had never given her spending money, King all but called the situation immoral."

To me these "enlightened moments" signal that Martin Luther King was a decent human being with an ability to be fair and discerning with female human beings...sometimes.  
He informed an unmarried woman grappling with whether to have sex that “real men still respect purity and virginity” and instructed an abused wife to determine whether there was anything within her personality to justify such treatment

Martin Luther King saw women as less than.  He saw women in general, and black women specifically, as "less than" in much the same way that white people see black people as "less than." 

And this failure of his colored his judgment and changed his behaviors in critical areas of life. 

Some will say that King's sexist outlook on life, was "just the way things were back then" --in the very same tones that white people use when talking about their ancestor's deadly racism.  Some will say that his sexism had little impact. But the truth is King's sexism had outcomes in his marriage, the movement, the black community, and his legacy.
Martin's advice in Ebony, placing the responsibility for an affair on a wife's shoulders: "When a woman asked what to do about her husband's extramarital affair, King told her to think of what the other woman might have to offer that she did not. What faults of her own might make her husband look elsewhere? "Do you nag?" King asked her."
Martin is clearly expressing the idea here that boys will be boys if you're not enough of a woman to keep him. And some attitudes travel in packs. Boys will be boys also encompasses it's only natural for a man to have sex anyway he can have it if he's been away from home for a while. 
A lot of men and women believe this to be true. However, let us remember that it doesn't appear that Malcom X believed this. I won't say he never, ever cheated. How would I know? But I get the distinct impression from the way Malcom X reacted to finding out Elijah Muhammad was sleeping around on his wife that he did not betray Betty Shabazz, not in this particular way-- that he did not settle into the 'boys will be boys'  attitude that so many of the black male civil rights leaders did, according to Ralph Abernathy's King biography.   
 Michael Dyson, about their roles in marriage: "King was in constant conflict with his wife about her role. She wanted to become much more involved in the movement; he wanted her to stay home and raise their children." Source: "I May Not Get There With You", by Michael Dyson, p. 195.

If King had seen his own infidelity as betrayal instead of putting into the Well- I'm- not- perfect box, if he had resisted seeing sleeping with other women as something that just naturally and unavoidably happens to married men when they are away from home a lot, he probably wouldn't have fought Coretta on her wanting to be with him on the road and involved in the movement so much. 

How Martin and Coretta handled their marriage seems like a small and personal thing, but 
if Coretta had been with MLK in the 1950s and 1960s more often, she probably would have been able to blossom as a civil rights leader earlier, as a women's rights leader earlier --as in while Martin was still alive.

If Ferdinand Barnett and Ida B Wells-Barnett could support each other and be activists together and separately while raising 4 children in the early 1900s, then Martin and Coretta could have done it in the 1950s and 1960s.  

"That's just the way it was back then"
doesn't hold water
for racists or sexists

If King had the ability to be a visionary when it comes to race, then he could have used that same vision on gender equality. Ferdinand Barnett had enough vision to have a mutually supportive relationship with Ida B. Martin Luther King chose not to  have that vision. He chose.  And he chose badly. He chose in a narcissistic fashion that seems way too familiar, frankly. 

If Martin and Coretta had been an actual team, how different a human being would Martin Luther King grown into by the time of his death?

Some will say but "What about the children?"

And I say "What about the children" as well.

I say the children are better served when one parent does not betray the other one. I say that a balance can be struck between a woman being with her husband, being with her children, and each dealing with bouts of extreme loneliness. Grandparents could have been used more effectively....if importance was placed on fidelity from the beginning. I say it is better for the children to NOT hear that father broke faith with and broke his word to your mother. I say it is better to NOT hear your mother have to defend a betrayal by essentially saying, 'I don't know what you're talking about....It didn't matter anyway. Our relationship was on a higher level than that'

I'm sorry. But these sort of fictions, the truth coming out a little at a time, will tend to have an impact on an adult child's life. 

When teens --if not young children-- find out that heroes like Martin Luther King betrayed their partners, then also learn that  adults minimize the impact of that betrayal how can this fail to have an effect on an entire community?  How can a man this high up in our esteem not have his failure have an effect? How many people, nowadays, will tell you that a man stepping out on a wife is just "one of those things?" 

So I ask again: How different a human being would Martin Luther King  Jr. grown into by the time of his death if Coretta had been by his side as a partner?
As a result of Coretta's influence, how much better would the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) been for black women, as an organization, sans Martin Luther King's leadership in sexism?

How different would The March On Washington have been for black women sans his leadership in sexism?

Septima Clarke, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height, Pauli Murray, and Anna Arnold Hedgeman would all struggle with sexism within the Civil Rigthts Movement. Septima Clarke said the bulk of this unequal treatment for women was coming from Dr. King.
This disrespect for black women was revealed during the March On Washington when only one black woman was allowed to speak during the regular program--after Anna Arnold Hedgeman battled mightily for it to be otherwise. Daisy Bates, former President of Arkansas Chapter of NAACP, leader of the Little Rock Nine, who had an eight foot cross burned on her lawn was allowed to speak for a little more than 60  seconds.*

Rosa Parks and Gloria Richardson attempting to speak (rather than sitting mute)  on the day of the March resulted in them being put in cab and sent back to the local hotel. And they were in that cab during Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. 

See William P Jones Book
 The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

Read More About The "Rampant Sexism At The March On Washington"

When you look at Martin Luther King 

from a black female perspective, 
it becomes clear that 
just like 
this Abraham Lincoln speech 
that was really for white men only - 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...

Abraham Lincoln 

...that this Martin Luther King speech 
was really for black men only - 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. 
 But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free...

Martin Luther King has had a lasting impact on this country.

As bad as race relations are now with the police murders, white racists were a lot more deadly prior to The Civil Rights Movement. White racists didn't need a badge to kill without impediment. Therefore, we should always be thankful for King's having been here for us. He's had a lasting and positive effect on us all.

But it seems reasonable to suppose that Martin Luther King's failures have had a lasting effect as well.

Too many things in the black community get stuffed into the 'Well, he's not perfect' bag AND/OR 'We're just going to pretend that didn't happen' bag so we can seek to repeat hero-stories instead of histories. Our habit of doing one of these two things is evident in how the Bill Cosby rape allegations have been defended by too large a percentage of the black community. And please note that Bill's lack of loyalty to Camille, his betrayal of Camille was being ignored long before the rape allegations.  
Coretta seemed to excuse Martin in order to preserve his legacy, no doubt. She almost had to have done this for us just as much as she did it for him, herself, and her children's privacy. And his infidelities, no matter how numerous, are truly a private affair. Coretta is the one that should have graded him as A+, A- or B+ as a husband and father based on her own criteria. But Martin Luther King as a black husband setting an example for other black husbands? For that he gets an "F" --especially since the Ralph Abernathy biography suggests that Martin never created a chance to redeem himself with his wife. 
So black men and black women will have to look to men like Malcom X for a stand up guy. And that's okay with me. While I've come to the conclusion that I wouldn't have agreed with Malcom X at every stage of his development,  its obvious that he had the ability to grow and change. 

Malcom X changed from petty thief to leader. After his visit to Mecca, he changed his mind about white people's ability to be allies. He also changed his mind about putting a human being, Elijah Muhammad, on too high a pedestal.  I think Malcom X had the flexibility of mind that Martin did not regardless of what his relationship with women was at the time of his death. If he'd lived, he'd have gotten better.

If I had a time machine so I could go, stand, and fight next to MLK in the 1960s, 
I don't think I would have seen as much potential for change in Martin Luther King as Malcom X.  But if he had changed, if he had allowed Coretta to fully bloom while he was alive, if Coretta had been seen as the strong version of herself instead of his appendage while he was still alive, I wonder if the entire black community would be stronger, would be more firmly partnered between male and female.

If Coretta had been Martin's partner, more often by his side instead of always left home as "supporter"  while he was alive, maybe the black female created #BlackLivesMatter might not have needed #SayHerName" to draw attention to black women as if black women matter too.

"Straight Outta Compton" might not have gone to movie theaters, touted as wonderful though the "bitches and hoes" lyrics sung to young black men over and over during the passing decades hasn't done a job on the minds of black men everywhere.

Still, the cloud Martin Luther King created via sexism had a silver lining. His ill treatment of black women at the March on Washington forced some of them into becoming founding members of (and join) the National Organization for Women. 

(Yes, white feminists were disappointing as allies too. But not AS disappointing. Black women couldn't possibly have expected as much from white women as they do from black men. That's never possible in my opinion)

If Martin had lived to be 80 or 90, the world would have changed around him. If he'd lived to get to be 80 or 90, maybe he'd have been a follower instead of a leader on the woman front. And maybe that's okay. 

I think it's okay that he was a very flawed man and a great leader, both. I think most of our leaders were very flawed. And I think we'd all know that already if we could stop reacting to white opinion by attempting to
 substitute  hero lessons for history lessons every chance we get --just like white folk do with their heroes. 

So many black leaders, artists, and writers have had failures that we refuse to learn anything about. And in refusing to know their shortcomings, we refuse to truly examine how these people came to be the great people they were.  If we refuse to know who our heroes really were we cannot follow in their footsteps. We cannot follow angels and Gods. When we follow the false positive image of someone, what else can we do but let ourselves down when we try to do something courageous...and then give up.

By creating false images of real heroes, we stop ourselves from learning where the stumbling blocks are down the road. I, for one, like learning from other people's mistakes. I don't have to experience every single stupidity that this life has to offer for myself. I really don't.
Besides, deciding to study a person's successes only is like trying to become a successful basketball player like Mike Jordan by only studying his highlight reels instead of learning about how many times he missed when he first started practicing his lay ups.

We, as black people, have to become more dedicated to searching for history lessons rather than hero lessons. I know I am not willing to settle for anything less at this point.

Are you?

I don't demand perfection in my heroes. But I do demand that the truth be told about their flaws and that we examine the ways in which those flaws caused damage. By the way, if the word "forgiveness" is a curse word to you, then this will be a problem.  So, I hope you work it out. 

In the mean time, please know that black girls should be reading their own history as written by black women who focus on the black female perspective. There's nothing like it for giving strengthening a girls self-worth.  And black boys probably need to read the same things even more.


Point #1: Sexism in the Civil Rights Movement did not exist in a vacuum.
"The sexism that was present in the Civil Rights Movement was a continuation of oppressive mentality that existed in the larger U.S. culture, which was and is a white, male-dominated culture." --> Correction: While the preceding statement is true enough, it is also true that sexism in Africa predates white people. And sexism survives, to this day, in African cultures that barely experienced any white colonialism. 

Black women do travel here from Africa. And they have mouths to tell the real story. Let's keep it real folks. 

Point #2: The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement never intended to end all forms of oppression in the U.S

Point #3: The Civil Rights Movement has served as a model for other social justice movements.

Point #4: Women contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement. 

If the Montgomery Bus Boycott began what's known as "The Civil Rights Movement" and Martin Luther King became famous as a result of that boycott, then you should know that Black Women of the Women's Political Council of Montgomery, led by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, conceived of, planned and executed that boycott.  Black men came along later and extended it after it was successful the first day.
Black women didn't just "help" They led
 Everybody, but especially black women need to read black history written by black women.
SUGGESTION 1 When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

SUGGESTION  2 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson

Point #5: Martin Luther King Jr. and other male Movement leaders remain heroes.

Point #6: By acknowledging the imperfections of the Civil Rights Movement's male leaders, we recognize not just their humanity, but [our own] as well.
"In his impressive volume, Soul of a Citizen, Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time, author and scholar Paul Loeb explores the ways in which everyday citizens excuse themselves from activist efforts.
He writes:  Chief among the obstacles … is a mistaken belief that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure, someone with more time, energy, courage, vision or knowledge than a normal person could ever possess. This belief pervades our society, in part because the media tends not to represent heroism as the work of ordinary human beings, which it almost always ..."

*-Josephine Baker was allowed to speak prior to the regular program at The March On Washington. And, as I understand it, she is not on the handbill (that described the program) handed out that day.

But please note, that black women who stayed in THIS country, fought, bled, led, and repsenting those that died for the cause were not allowed to speak. But a woman --regardless of various current definitions of "sexual freedom" --  whose place was understood as 'sex object' prior to her retirement and performed stereotypical black jezebel, supporting "animalistic" race images on stages for the white French was allowed to speak.