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Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. - The Great Social Reformer

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I.              INTRODUCTION


It is a popular notion that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has based his teachings and civil actions to the thoughts and doctrine of Marxism. It is the goal of this paper to pursue a discussion regarding the said subject. The author shall place his discussion is several sections to provide a clear definition of the great social reformer that is King.


There shall be six sections that would be provided in this paper. To provide a proper perspective on the relationship of Marxist views and King, it shall impart a discussion on the correlation of the former and the fundamental adversary of the latter, racism. The third part of this discussion on King shall also furnish a brief background on his life. This would provide a glimpse on the personality and the roots of King as an enemy of discrimination. The fourth part shall comprise his ideologies and philosophies. This would provide King’s position to several aspects of his struggle for equality. On the other hand, the fifth part shall expose King’s perception of Marxism. This shall provide the basis of the analysis, which is the last part of this paper, and conversely on the sixth portion noting several literature regarding the possibility of King’s Marxist inclinations.


The primary source of this portion is an article by West (1999) concerning his views of racism as related to the views of Marx. According to him, there are four basic conceptions of racism in the Marxist tradition.  (West, 1999) The first subsumes racism under the general rubric of working-class exploitation. This viewpoint tends to ignore forms of racism not determined by the workplace. At the turn of the century, this position was put forward by many leading figures in the Socialist party, particularly Eugene Debs. Debs believed that white racism against peoples of color was solely a "divide-and-conquer strategy" of the ruling class and that any attention to its operations "apart from the general labor problem" would constitute racism in reverse.

The second conception of racism in the Marxist tradition acknowledges the specific operation of racism within the workplace (for example, job discrimination and structural inequality of wages) but remains silent about these operations outside the workplace.  (West, 1999) This viewpoint holds that peoples of color are subjected both to general working-class exploitation and to a specific "super-exploitation" resulting from less access to jobs and lower wages.

The third conception of racism in the Marxist tradition, the so-called "Black Nation thesis, " has been the most influential among black Marxists. (West, 1999) It claims that the operation of racism is best understood as a result of general and specific working-class exploitation and national oppression.

According to the author, all of these variants adhere to Stalin's definition of a nation set forth in his Marxism and the National Question (1913) which states that "a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. (West, 1999)

On the other hand, he added that the fourth conception of racism in the Marxist tradition claims that racist practices result not only from general and specific working-class exploitation but also from xenophobic attitudes that are not strictly reducible to class exploitation. (West, 1999) From this perspective, racist attitudes have a life and logic of their own, dependent upon psychological factors and cultural practices.

This prompted the author into one position, that the Marxist theory is indispensable yet ultimately inadequate for grasping the complexity of racism as a historical phenomenon. (West, 1999) Marxism is indispensable because it highlights the relation of racist practices to the capitalist mode of production and recognizes the crucial role racism plays within the capitalist economy. Yet Marxism is inadequate because it fails to probe other spheres of American society where racism plays an integral role--especially the psychological and cultural spheres. Furthermore, Marxist views tend to assume that racism has its roots in the rise of modern capitalism. Yet, it can easily be shown that although racist practices were shaped and appropriated by modern capitalism, racism itself predates capitalism. Its roots lie in the earlier encounters between the civilizations of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America--encounters that occurred long before the rise of modern capitalism.

Moreover, the author further noted that there includes three key assumptions on his position on racism and Marxism. He stated that cultural practices, including racist discourses and actions, have multiple power functions (such as domination over non-Europeans) that are neither reducible to nor intelligible in terms of class exploitation alone. In short these practices have a reality of their own and cannot simply be reduced to an economic base.  (West, 1999) Furthermore, he further asserted that cultural practices are the medium through which selves are produced. He posited that we are who and what we owe primarily to cultural practices. The complex process of people shaping and being shaped by cultural practices involves the use of language, psychological factors, sexual identities, and aesthetic conceptions that cannot be adequately grasped by a social theory primarily focused on modes of production at the macrostructural level. (West, 1999) And lastly he noted that cultural practices are not simply circumscribed by modes of production; they also are bounded by civilizations. Hence, cultural practices cut across modes of production. (For example, there are forms of Christianity that exist in both pre-capitalist and capitalist societies.) An analysis of racist practices in both pre-modern and modern Western civilization yields both continuity and discontinuity. Even Marxism can be shown to be both critical of and captive to a Eurocentrism that can justify racist practices. Although Marxist theory remains indispensable, it obscures the manner in which cultural practices, including notions of "scientific" rationality, are linked to particular ways of life. (West, 1999)

Thus it is apparent that socialism and antiracism are two inseparable yet not identical goals. (West, 1999) He concluded that it should be apparent that racist practices directed against black, brown, yellow, and red people are an integral element of U. S. history, including present day American culture and society. This means not simply that Americans have inherited racist attitudes and prejudices, but, more importantly, that institutional forms of racism are embedded in American society in both visible and invisible ways. (West, 1999)


King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher. He was renamed "Martin" when he was about 6 years old. (

After going to local grammar and high schools, King enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. He wasn't planning to enter the ministry, but then he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar whose manner and bearing convinced him that a religious career could be intellectually satisfying as well. After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., winning the Plafker Award as the outstanding student of the graduating class, and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship as well. ( King completed the coursework for his doctorate in 1953, and was granted the degree two years later upon completion of his dissertation.

Married by then, King returned South to become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Here, he made his first mark on the civil-rights movement, by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city's bus lines. ( King overcame arrest and other violent harassment, including the bombing of his home. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.

A national hero and a civil-rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was elected its president, and he soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination. (

After finishing his first book and making a trip to India, King returned to the United States in 1960 to become co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church. ( Three years later, King's nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of blacks to the nation at large, with enormous impact. King was arrested, but his voice was not silenced: He wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to refute his critics.

Later that year King was a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career. Time magazine designated him as its Man of the Year for 1963. ( A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. When he returned from Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing.

In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry blacks cared little for his preaching and even less for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam. ( Although he was trying to create a new coalition based on equal support for peace and civil rights, it caused an immediate rift. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King's shift of emphasis as "a serious tactical mistake" the Urban League warned that the "limited resources" of the civil-rights movement would be spread too thin;

But from the vantage point of history, King's timing was superb.  ( Students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen and reformers rushed into the movement. Then, King turned his attention to the domestic issue that he felt was directly related to the Vietnam struggle: poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and he spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent "camp-ins." With this in mind, he began to plan a massive march of the poor on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and downtrodden Americans.

King interrupted these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men's strike. He wanted to discourage violence, and he wanted to focus national attention on the plight of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men were bargaining for basic union representation and long-overdue raises. (

But he never got back to his poverty plans. ( Death came for King on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the black-owned Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street. While standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, King was shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country.

However, King's legacy has lived on. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. ( Today it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His birthday, Jan. 15, is a national holiday, celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts throughout the United States. The Lorraine Hotel where he was shot is now the National Civil Rights Museum.


The following discussion shall grapple the views and philosophy of King based on his published works and speeches. According to Dr. King, this was the only solution that could cure society’s evil and create a just society. He believed the philosophy of "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies" applied only to conflicts between individuals and not racial groups or nations.

Moreover, King was struck by the concept of satyagraha, which means truth-force or love-force.  He realized that "the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom." (King, 1960) As nonviolent resistance became the force behind the boycott movement, his concerns were clarified, he committed himself to this method of action, and he realized that it was a powerful solution.

On the other hand, King believed that there were six important points about nonviolent resistance.  First, he argued that even though nonviolence may be perceived as cowardly, it was not, and was in fact a method that did resist.  According to King, the nonviolent protester is as passionate as a violent protester and that despite not being physically aggressive, "his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken." (King, 1957)  Second, the point of nonviolent resistance is not to humiliate the opponent, but instead to gain his friendship and understanding.  Further, the use of boycotts and methods of non-cooperation, were the "means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent." (King, 1957) The result was redemption and reconciliation instead of the bitterness and chaos that came from violent resistance.   The third point King advanced, was that the battle was against the forces of evil and not individuals.  Tension was not between the races, but was "between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  And if there is a victory it will be a victory not merely for fifty thousand Negroes, but a victory for justice and the forces of light." (King, 1957)  Thus, tension only existed between good and evil and not between people. Fourth, nonviolent resistance required the willingness to suffer. One must accept violence without retaliating with violence and must go to jail if necessary.  Accordingly, the end was more important than safety, and retaliatory violence would distract from the main fight.  King believed that by accepting suffering, it led to "tremendous educational and transforming possibilities" and would be a powerful tool in changing the minds of the opponents. (King, 1958) King's fifth point about nonviolent resistance was that the "universe was on the side of justice."  Accordingly, people have a "cosmic companionship" with God who is on the side of truth.  Therefore, the resister has faith that justice will occur in the future. 

V.           KING ON MARXISM

The following selection shall comprise a deliberation of King regarding the perspective of Marx. It is primarily based on King’s speech titled as The Challenge of Marxism.  According to King, during the Christmas holidays of 1949, he spent time to look into Karl Marx to try to understand the appeal of communism for many people. For the first time he carefully scrutinized Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. He also stated that he as well read some interpretive works on the thinking of Marx and Lenin. In reading such Communist writings he drew certain conclusions that will be the basis of our discussion in this chapter.

First, he rejected their materialistic interpretation of history. (King: n.d.) Communism, avowedly secularistic and materialistic, has no place for God. This, he said, he could never accept, for as a Christian he believe that there is a creative personal power in this universe that is the ground and essence of all reality–a power that cannot be explained in materialistic terms. History is ultimately guided by spirit, not matter.

Secondly, he strongly disagreed with communism's ethical relativism. (King: n.d.) Since for the Communist there is no divine government, no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles; consequently almost anything–force, violence, murder, lying–is a justifiable means to the "millennial" end. This type of relativism was abhorrent to me. Constructive ends can never give absolute moral justification to destructive means, because in the final analysis the end is preexistent in the mean.

Third, he opposed communism's political totalitarianism. (King: n.d.) He asserted that in communism the individual ends up in subjection to the state. True, the Marxist would argue that the state is an "interim" reality, which is to be eliminated when the classless society emerges; but the state is the end while it lasts, and man only a means to that end. And if any man's so-called rights or liberties stand in the way of that end, they are simply swept aside. His liberties of expression, his freedom to vote, his freedom to listen to what news he likes or to choose his books are all restricted. Man becomes hardly more, in communism, than a depersonalized cog in the turning wheel of the state.

Likewise, he confirmed that this deprecation of individual freedom was objectionable to him. (King: n.d.) He stated that he is convinced that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Man must never be treated as a means to the end of the state, but always as an end within himself.

Yet, in spite of the fact that my response to communism was and is negative, and he considered it basically evil, there were points at which he found it challenging. (King: n.d.) He noted the late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, referring to communism as a Christian heresy. By this he meant that communism had laid hold of certain truths which are essential parts of the Christian view of things, but that it had bound up with them concepts and practices which no Christian could ever accept or profess. Communism challenged the late Archbishop and it should challenge every Christian–as it challenged me–to a growing concern about social justice. With all of its false assumptions and evil methods, communism grew as a protest against the hardships of the underprivileged. Communism in theory emphasized a classless society, and a concern for social justice, though the world knows from sad experience that in practice it created new classes and a new lexicon of injustice. The Christian ought always to be challenged by any protest against unfair treatment of the poor, for Christianity is itself such a protest, nowhere expressed more eloquently than in Jesus' words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

Moreover, he also sought systematic answers to Marx's critique of modern bourgeois culture. He stated that Marx presented capitalism as essentially a struggle between the owners of the productive resources and the workers, whom Marx regarded as the real producers. (King: n.d.) Marx interpreted economic forces as the dialectical process by which society moved from feudalism through capitalism to socialism, with the primary mechanism of this historical movement being the struggle between economic classes whose interests were irreconcilable. Obviously this theory left out of account the numerous and significant complexities–political, economic moral, religious and psychological–which played a vital role in shaping the constellation of institutions and ideas known today as Western civilization. Moreover, it was dated in the sense that the capitalism Marx wrote about bore only a partial resemblance to the capitalism we know in this country today.


A bulk of this portion of the paper shall constitute citations on several literatures regarding King’s Marxist’s tendencies. This shall place an equilibrium with regards to the investigation of King as a reformer or as a Marxist. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that Martin Luther King was a member of the Communist Party. Nonetheless, the pattern of his activities and associations in the 1950s and 1960s show clearly that he had no strong objection to working with and even relying on Communists or persons and groups whose relationships with the Communist Party were, at the least, ambiguous. It should be recalled that in this period of time (far more than today) many liberal and even radical groups on the left shared a strong awareness of and antipathy for the anti-democratic and brutal nature of Communism and its characteristically deceptive and subversive tactics. (Le Blanc, n.d.) It is doubtful that many American liberals would have associated or worked with many of the persons and groups with whom King not only was close but on whom he was in several respects dependent. These associations and, even more, King's refusal to break with them, even at the expense of public criticism and the alienation of the Kennedy Administration, strongly suggest that King harbored a strong sympathy for the Communist Party and its goals.

Moreover, King (Le Blanc, n.d.) apparently harbored sympathy for Marxism, at least in its economic doctrines, from the time of his education in divinity school. The Rev. J. Plus Barbour, described by Garrow as "perhaps King's closest friend" while at Crozer Theological Seminary from 1948 to 1951, believed that King "was economically a Marxist.... He thought the capitalistic system was predicated on exploitation and prejudice, poverty, and that we wouldn't solve these problems until we got a new social order." King was critical of capitalism in sermons of 1956 and 1957, and in 1967 he told the staff of the SCLC, "We must recognize that we can't solve our problems now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power." In 1968 he told an interviewer that America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially.... the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws-racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.

In addition, in 1968 he publicly stated, "We are engaged in the class struggle." King's view of American society was thus not fundamentally different from that of the CPUSA or of other Marxists. While he is generally remembered today as the pioneer for civil rights for blacks and as the architect of non-violent techniques of dissent and political agitation, his hostility to and hatred for America should be made clear. While there is no evidence that King was a member of the Communist Party, his associations with persons close to the Party, his cooperation with and assistance for groups controlled or influenced by the Party, his efforts to disguise these relationships from public view and from his political allies in the Kennedy Administration, and his views of American society and foreign policy all suggest that King may have had an explicit but clandestine relationship with the Communist Party or its agents to promote through his own stature, not the civil rights of blacks or social justice and progress, but the totalitarian goals and ideology of Communism. While there is no evidence to demonstrate this speculation, it is not improbable that such a relationship existed. (Le Blanc, n.d.) 

Moreover, given the activities and associations of Martin Luther King  (Le Blanc, n.d.), there is no reason to disagree with the characterization of King made by Congressman John M. Ashbrook on the floor of the House of Representatives on October 4, 1967: "King has consistently worked with Communists and has helped give them a respectability they do not deserve" and "I believe he has done more for the Communist Party than any other person of this decade."

On the other hand, the thesis that King tilted toward communism has always found its advocates. (Moses, 1996) FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was sure that King took orders from communists. King's own writings express a sympathetic if critical acquaintance with communist literature such as Marx's Capital. And King's strategic focus seemed to shift ever more toward the kinds of economic issues raised by Marxist analysis, i.e. the condition of labor, the distribution of poverty, and the way that real estate is manipulated for owning classes. When King turned to these issues and denounced the war in Viet Nam, too, it became clear how revolutionary he could be. But King's engagement with Marxism did not begin late.

Likewise, in August of 1952, King preached a sermon at his father's church on, "The Challenge of Communism to Christianity." (Moses, 1996) The sermon elicited a written response from the dean of the Morehouse School of Religion, Melvin H. Watson, who was obviously pleased with the overall presentation, but who felt obliged to record three criticisms: (1) that Marx's materialism was more defensible than King had allowed, (2) that King should look into the history of the Russian Church in order to better understand communist attitudes toward religion, and (3) that Stalin was a kind of pioneer in anti-racism (Carson 1994: 156-57). These remarks from a prominent administrator at King's alma mater indicate that King's intellectual development had not been sheltered from sympathetic treatments of Marxism. Perhaps this is why King investigated Marx as early as 1949, in order to comprehend the appeal of communist literature for many people.

Thus, something about Marxism compelled King from an early age. Despite the quibbles one might have on various fronts, King acknowledged the central force of Marxism as a fitting indictment of Western and Christian decadence. What moved King was a sense that a revolutionary spirit could be developed to displace Marxism as a force for change in the modern world. For King, nonviolence was the answer. (Moses, 1996)


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was deservedly one of the most monumental and pivotal figures of the 20th century. King's inspirational leadership, oratory, and profession of non-violence may have very well saved this nation from a race war. (Morse, 2002) King has emerged as the most visible and influential leader of the civil rights movement as opposed to an advocate of violence such as Malcolm X or a radical communist.

No, the Rev. Dr. King was not a communist, however, he did business with communists and was influenced by them. While this is a delicate subject to broach, especially given the martyrdom and lionization of Dr. King to virtual sainthood status, the subject must nevertheless be broached for a better understanding of some of the darker forces that infiltrated and sabotaged an organically pro American, conservative, and Christian civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King surrounded himself with communists from the beginning of his career. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formed in 1957 and led by Dr. King, also had as its vice president Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth who was at the same time president of the Southern Conference Education Fund, an identified communist front according to the Legislative Committee on un-American Activities, Louisiana (Report April 13, 1964 pp. 31-38). The field director of SCEF was Carl Braden, a known communist agitator who also sponsored the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which counted as a member Lee Harvey Oswald, the communist assassin of President Kennedy. Dr. King maintained correspondence with Carl Braden. Also on the board of SCLC was Bayard Rustin, a known communist.

In 1957, Dr. King addressed the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn. which was originally called Commonwealth College until it was sited by the House Committee on un-American Activities as being a communist front (April 27, 1949). The committee found that Commonwealth, later the Highlander Folk School, was using religion as a way to infiltrate the African-American community by, among other techniques, comparing the texts of the New Testament to those of Karl Marx. Dr. King knew many of the known communists associated with the Highlander school.

In 1960, Dr. King hired Hunter Pitts O'Dell, a communist official to work at SCLC. According to the St. Louis Globe Democrat (Oct. 26, 1962) "A Communist has infiltrated the top administrative post in the Rev. Martin Luther King's SCLC. He is Jack H. O'Dell, acting executive director of conference activities in the southeastern states including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana." Dr. King fired O'Dell when this information emerged but rehired him as head of the SCLC New York office.

Dr. King was praised by communists and promoted by fellow travelers. Communist official Benjamin J. Davis, in the Worker (Nov. 10, 1963) describes Dr. King as "a brilliant and practical leader who articulates the philosophy of the Negro people, for direct non-violent mass action." The Worker article goes on to describe Dr. King as "The foremost advocate of the solution of social problems through nonviolent methods of mass action."

In his own words, Martin Luther King expresses a communist outlook in his book "Stride Toward Freedom" He states that "in spite of the shortcomings of his analysis, Marx had raised some basic questions. I was deeply concerned from my early teen days about the gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, and my reading of Marx made me even more conscious of this gulf. Although modern American capitalism has greatly reduced the gap through social reforms, there was still need for a better distribution of wealth. Moreover, Marx had revealed the danger of the profit motive as the sole basis of an economic system…"

It's strikes me as sad that Dr. King, the most influential leader of the civil rights movement wasn't an advocate of the capitalism that was already leading to such great economic strides amongst African-Americans in his day. By advocating a "better distribution of wealth" he meant state control over the economy. He sneered at "the profit motive" without explaining why African-Americans shouldn't seek to profit to the best of their ability. These ideas would later on open the floodgates to radical African-American leaders such as Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, the Black Panthers, and the burning and looting of African-American neighborhoods, the institutionalizing of welfare programs, the perpetuation of poverty, the destruction of the African-American family, drugs, violence, racism, and crime.

In "Stride Toward Freedom" Dr. King states that "In short, I read Marx as I read all of the influential historical thinkers – from a dialectical point of view, combining a partial yea and a partial no…My readings of Marx convinced me that truth is found neither in Marxism nor in traditional capitalism. Each represents a partial truth. Historically capitalism failed to see truth in collective enterprise and Marxism failed to see the truth in individual enterprise…The Kingdom of G-d is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both."

By stating that he views things "from a dialectical point of view" Dr. King is thinking like communists such as Marx, Lenin, or Stalin. The dialectic always and can only lead to authoritarianism. Man cannot, for example, be half free and half slave, either he is free or he is a slave. Dr. King's imperious stand toward his own people would stand in contrast to an advocacy of genuine freedom, the development of self-rule, self-sufficiency, private ownership, and the accumulation of capital resulting from achievement. Dr. King was not advocating the American system of free market capitalism. Instead, he stood for a system that has stunted the growth of African-Americans as well as the rest of us.

Much remains to be said regarding the communist infiltration of the civil rights movement as a whole. The communists sought to use African-Americans as cannon fodder in their revolution by stoking hatred and racial division. Much blood and suffering is on the hands of these communist agitators. The story of how the left-wing predominantly white establishment promoted communists in the African-American community as a means of continuing an informal system of oppression also cries out to be told. "Truth is found neither in Marxism nor in traditional capitalism."


Moreover, on Labor Day, 1957, Martin Luther King and four others at a strange institution called the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee attended a special meeting. (Strom, 1994) The Highlander Folk School was a Communist front, having been founded by Myles Horton (Communist Party organizer for Tennessee) and Don West (Communist Party organizer for North Carolina). The leaders of this meeting with King were the aforementioned Horton and West, along with Abner Berry and James Dumbrowski, all open and acknowledged members of the Communist Party, USA. The agenda of the meeting was a plan to tour the Southern states to initiate demonstrations and riots.

From 1955 to 1960, Martin Luther King's associate, advisor, and personal secretary were one Bayard Rustin. (Strom, 1994) In 1936 Rustin joined the Young Communist League at New York City College. Convicted of draft-dodging, he went to prison for two years in 1944. On January 23, 1953 the "Los Angeles Times" reported his conviction and sentencing to jail for 60 days for lewd vagrancy and homosexual perversion. Rustin attended the 16th Convention of the Communist Party, USA in February 1957. One month later, he and King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC for short. The president of the SCLC was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The vice-president of the SCLC was the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, who was also the president of an identified Communist front known as the Southern Conference Educational Fund, an organization whose field director, a Mr. Carl Braden, was simultaneously a national sponsor of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, of which you may have heard. The program director of the SCLC was the Reverend Andrew Young, in more recent years Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the UN and mayor of Atlanta. Young, by the way, was trained at the Highlander Folk School, previously mentioned.
Soon after returning from a trip to Moscow in 1958, Rustin organized the first of King's famous marches on Washington. The official organ of the Communist Party, "The Worker,- - openly declared the march to be a Communist project. Although he left King's employ as secretary in 1961, Rustin was called upon by King to be second in command of the much larger march on Washington, which took place on August 28, 1963. (Strom, 1994)
Bayard Rustin's replacement in 1961 as secretary and advisor to King was Jack O'Dell, also known as Hunter Pitts O'Dell. (Strom, 1994) According to official records, in 1962 Jack O'Dell was a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party, USA. He had been listed as a Communist Party member as early as 1956. O'Dell was also given the job of acting executive director for SCLC activities for the entire Southeast, according to the St. Louis "Globe-Democrat - -of October 26, 1962. At that time, there were still some patriots in the press corps, and word of O'Dell's party membership became known.
Shortly after the negative news reports, King fired O'Dell with much fanfare. And he then, without the fanfare, "immediately hired him again- - as director of the New York office of the SCLC, as confirmed by the "Richmond News-Leader - -of September 27, 1963. In 1963 a Black man from Monroe, North Carolina named Robert Williams made a trip to Peking, China. Exactly 20 days before King's 1963 march on Washington, Williams successfully urged Mao Tse-Tung to speak out on behalf of King's movement. Mr. Williams was also around this time maintaining his primary residence in Cuba, from which he made regular broadcasts to the southern US, three times a week, from high-power AM transmitters in Havana under the title "Radio Free Dixie." In these broadcasts, he urged violent attacks by Blacks against White Americans.
During this period, Williams wrote a book entitled "Negroes With Guns." The writer of the foreword for this book? None other than Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also interesting to note that the editors and publishers of this book were to a man all supporters of the infamous Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
According to King's biographer and sympathizer David J. Garrow, "King privately described himself as a Marxist." In his 1981 book, "The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.", Garrow quotes King as saying in SCLC staff meetings, "...we have moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution.... The whole structure of American life must be changed.... We are engaged in the class struggle."
Moreover, Jewish Communist Stanley Levison can best be described as King's behind-the-scenes "handler." Levison, who had for years been in charge of the secret funnelling of Soviet funds to the Communist Party, USA, was King's mentor and was actually the brains behind many of King's more successful ploys. It was Levison who edited King's book, "Stride Toward Freedom." It was Levison who arranged for a publisher. Levison even prepared King's income tax returns! It was Levison who really controlled the fund-raising and agitation activities of the SCLC. Levison wrote many of King's speeches. King described Levison as one of his "closest friends." (Strom, 1994)
On the other hand, Helms (1983) stated that there is no evidence that King himself was a member of the CPUSA or that he was a rigorous adherent of Marxist ideology or of the Communist Party line. Nevertheless, King was repeatedly warned about his associations with known Communists by friendly elements in the Kennedy Administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) (including strong and explicit warning from President Kennedy himself). King took perfunctory and deceptive measures to separate himself from the Communists against whom he was warned. He continued to have close and secret contacts with at least some of them after being informed and warned of their background, and he violated a commitment to sever his relationships with identified Communists.


Throughout his career King, unlike many other civil rights leaders of his time, associated with the most extreme political elements in the United States. (Helms, 1983) He addressed their organizations, signed their petitions, and invited them into his own organizational activities. Extremist elements played a significant role in promoting and influencing King's opposition to the Vietnam war-an opposition that was not predicated on what King believed to be the best interests of the United States but on his sympathy for the North Vietnamese Communist regime and on an essentially Marxist and anti-American ideological view of U.S. foreign policy.

King's patterns of associations and activities described in this report show that, at the least, he had no strong objection to Communism, that he appears to have welcomed collaboration with Communists, and that he and his principal vehicle, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), were subject to influence and manipulation by Communists. (Helms, 1983) The conclusion must be that Martin Luther King, Jr. was either an irresponsible individual; careless of his own reputation and that of the civil rights movement for integrity and loyalty, or that he knowingly cooperated and sympathized with subversive and totalitarian elements under the control of a hostile foreign power.

According to sympathetic biographer David J. Garrow, King admitted to those close to him that he was a Marxist (in other words, a Communist). Three of the secretaries/advisors closest to him that he employed during the time in which he was active in the Civil Rights movement were Stanley Levison, Bayard Rustin, and Jack O’Dell, all three of whom were well known Communists.

In addition, Stanley Levison, the Communist who was in charge of the funnelling Soviet funds into the United States, was King’s principle advisor and one of his “closest friends.” Levison edited King’s plagiarized book, Stride Toward Freedom, and found it a publisher. He also prepared King’s tax returns, controlled most of the affairs of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped him to write many of his speeches. Both John and Robert Kennedy urged King to drop Levison because of his reputation as a Communist, but King refused to do so. The FBI, the secret police of the United States, developed an initial interest in King because of his contacts with Levison.                          

Another of King’s Communist contacts was a black man from North Carolina named Robert Williams. This man broadcast from Communist Cuba to the southern US three times a week, inciting Blacks to racial violence against White Americans. In 1963, Williams went to Peking, China, and influenced the Communist leader and mass murderer Mao Zedong to voice his support for King’s 1963 march on Washington. Around this time, King himself wrote a foreword to Williams’s book, Negroes with Guns. At one time, King also attended a financial meeting with representatives from the Communist Party; not knowing that one of the representatives was a government plant.

In addition, a number of Massey lectures that King delivered over Canadian radio in the closing days of 1967 could be used to provide an impression of King’s orientation. (Moses, 1996) These lectures were later published posthumously as Trumpet of Conscience. This artifact of King's philosophy was produced at a time when King's Marxist filiations were most apparent, but I think we must conclude that Marxism can't swallow up the contribution that King made. Something profound is added. Marxist thought ponders not only what is lifted up in such a dialectic, but also what is exceeded and overturned.

Several passages from Trumpet of Conscience place King in sympathy with Marxist tenets, and the overall tone of the book is quite revolutionary as we shall see. (Moses, 1996) In the closing lecture, delivered as a sermon live from Ebenezer Baptist Church, King declared that his famous dream had turned into nightmare just a few weeks after he had talked about it at the 1963 March on Washington:

“It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes' problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisers, 16,000 strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over 500,000 American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can't give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose the courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.” (King 1968: 76)

The above passage sums that nonviolence challenges Marxism, because there is nothing here for Marxism to refute, but there is also very little that Marxism can claim as its own. (Moses, 1996) The first virtue of Marxism--a virtue that King commended--is the way that issues of injustice are habitually raised for unflinching consideration. As King shifts from dream to nightmare, the prophetic virtue of Marxism is affirmed. The disorders of the world shall be identified and denounced, but there is also a vision to profess with hope.

This brings us to three features that distinguish King's spirit of revolution: love, pluralism, and nonviolent direct action as mass civil disobedience.  (Moses, 1996) None of these is to be found in Marxism.

Let the initial discussion start with the ethic of love. It has been amply noted that King's ethic of love springs from a Christian root. (Moses, 1996) But it is also true that King' ethic of love has a root in the psychology of struggle. In more technical terms, King's ethic of love proposes an irrevocable relationship between ends and means. Since justice is not an arrangement among things, but a relationship between human beings, justice depends upon love. There can be no loveless path to justice.

Turning now to King's pluralism, we find truth fragmented into a variety of perspectives. (Moses, 1996) There is no single cause of evil, and there is no single cure. Thus King talked about the triple evils of racism, poverty, and violence; and he talked about coalitions of struggle in which diverse groups could lend their separate aspects of strength. Under this model, one neither anticipates nor builds the vanguard party. King's pluralism directed him to find aspects of value in his opponents, as it also encouraged healthy criticism among allies. In sum, King's pluralism maintains a habit of give and take.

Furthermore, the scholarship of nonviolence, even if pursued from a Marxist perspective, is from the outset guided by principles that are new to the communist tradition. (Moses, 1996) If King had an actual chance to complete his projects, their viability was more enhanced by nonviolence than to King's apparent debt to Marxist analysis. Marxism had been analyzing these questions for many years, but it was the nonviolent innovation that made history. Nonviolence stimulates new dimensions of analysis and sets new methods afoot.

Based on the preceding discussions and cited works, one could reckon that King was a reformer who have taken his influences from major schools of thought. Nonetheless, he has provided a new approach in dealing with the force of discrimination in his homeland. Although one could not destroy a force, King has provided the world with a perspective and the realization that it prejudices does exist, that discrimination is real. In many ways, King has provided a whole new consciousness that seeks the harmony of the human race.



Helms, Jesse. (1983). ‘The King Holiday and Its Meaning’, Congressional Record. Vol. 129 No. 130.  October 3, 1983


King Jr., Martin Luther. A Challenge to Marxism. (n.d.)


King Jr., Martin Luther. An Experiment in Love. Jubilee, September 1958, pp. 11.


King Jr., Martin Luther. Nonviolence and Racial Justice. The Christian Century 74 (6 February 1957), pp. 165-67.


King Jr., Martin Luther. Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. The Christian Century 77 (13 April 1960), pp. 439-41.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Carson, Clayborne ed. (2001). The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Warner Books: New York


Le Blanc, Paul. A Short History of the U.S. Working Class. La Roche College. n.d.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Life and Times. In Based on The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997. Accessed [01/12/03]

Morse, Chuck. (2002). ‘Was Martin Luther King a Communist?’ The SierraTimes. January 20, 2002

Moses, Greg. Challenge of Nonviolence to Marxism. Rethinking Marxism Conference. Amherst. 1996

Strom, Kevin Alfred. (1994). ‘The Beast as Saint: The Truth About Martin Luther King, Jr.’. American Dissident Voices. – radio program

West, Cornel. Toward A Socialist Theory Of Racism. In 1999. Accessed [12/21/02]


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