On Fox News Sunday, Glenn Beck was finally confronted with what must have been, for him, the terrible truth: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream was one of social justice and economic rights for all. As Chris Wallace ticked off facts about Dr. King and the 1963 rally at which he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, Beck basically dissolved on air, conceding that he disagreed with vast portions of King's dream before stating what he thought King's dream should have been. It was not pretty. Watch:
After Wallace explained to Beck -- who had spent months claiming that at his 8-28 rally, his supporters would “reclaim the civil rights movement” and “pick up Martin Luther King's dream” - that “the civil rights movement was always about an economic agenda," Beck described what he thought Dr. King's “real agenda” should have been:
BECK: Well, you know what, Chris? I think that is part of it, but that's a part of it that I don't agree with. I think the bigger part - the thing that we fail to recognize is that is the racial politics, that the real agenda should be equal justice, an equal shot. The dream was judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin.
Later in the interview, Wallace pointed out that King “advocated what he called an economic bill of rights, guaranteeing everyone a job” and commented, “I mean, you may say, well, that's not your civil rights movement, but it was Martin Luther King's.” Beck replied, “Well, I'm not Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King would have to stand for Martin Luther King -- let his words stand where they are.”
Setting aside the pretentiousness of Beck attempting to claim what the “real agenda” of the civil rights movement “should be,” Dr. King discussed and rejected Beck's view that the civil rights movement should have been solely about “equal justice” rather than economic justice. King instead took the position that reducing inequality was necessary in order to give everyone, in Beck's works, “an equal shot.” Indeed, in 1958, King wrote that “economic injustice” was the “inseparable twin of racial injustice” (emphasis added):
From my early teens in Atlanta I was deeply concerned about the problem of racial injustice. I grew up abhorring segregation, considering it both rationally inexplicable and morally unjustifiable. I could never accept the fact of having to go to the back of the bus or sit in the segregated section of a train. The first time that I was seated behind the curtain in a dining car I felt as if the curtain had been dropped on my selfhood. I had also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice is economic injustice. I saw how the systems of segregation ended up in the exploitation of the Negro as well as poor whites. Through these early experiences I grew up deeply conscious of the varieties of injustice in our society. [A Testament of Hope, 37]
Likewise, in an essay published after his death, King wrote that “justice for black people” would require “radical changes in the structure of our society” to alleviate economic inequality:
Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuousness yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.
Steven Vincent Benet had a message for both white and black Americans in the title of a story, Freedom Is a Hard Bought Thing. When millions of people have been cheated fro centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care - each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage. Each will require billions of dollars to correct. Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost for this society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms. This fact has not been fully grasped, because most of the gains of the past decade were obtained at bargain prices. The desegregation of public facilities cost nothing; neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials. [A Testament of Hope, 314-315]
In his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech, King also explicitly linked racial and economic justice, saying that “the Negro still in not free” not only because “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” but also because “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” This strongly suggests that when King said “Let freedom ring,” he was calling for an end to poverty as well as to segregation -- for economic as well as civil rights.
In his final address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King made clear his belief that what Beck called “an equal shot” would be impossible unless the federal government did something about extreme poverty through a program of massive redistribution of wealth:
With all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact, however, that the Negro still lives in the basement of the Great Society. He is still at the bottom, despite the few who have penetrated to slightly higher levels. Even where the door has been forced partially open, mobility for the Negro is still sharply restricted. There is often no bottom at which to start, and when there is there's almost no room at the top. In consequence, Negroes are still impoverished aliens in an affluent society. They are too poor even to rise with the society, too impoverished by the ages to be able to ascend by using their own resources. And the Negro did not do this himself; it was done to him. For more than half of his American history, he was enslaved. Yet, he built the spanning bridges and the grand mansions, the sturdy docks and stout factories of the South. His unpaid labor made cotton “King” and established America as a significant nation in international commerce. Even after his release from chattel slavery, the nation grew over him, submerging him. It became the richest, most powerful society in the history of man, but it left the Negro far behind.
And so we still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom. Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shores of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice. (Yes, That's right) We still need some Paul Revere of conscience to alert every hamlet and every village of America that revolution is still at hand. Yes, we need a chart; we need a compass; indeed, we need some North Star to guide us into a future shrouded with impenetrable uncertainties.
Now, in order to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population. (Yes) [applause]
In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools (Yeah) receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. (Those schools) One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.
King called for rectifying this economic gap through a federal program of guaranteed annual income.