Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela – Brothers in Arms

Before we get too far into 2014, I would like to reflect on a couple of important events in 2013.

2013 was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King`s iconic `I have a dream ` speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. It was also the year that saw the passing away of that other iconic figure of peace and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela. The emergence of these two men into public consciousness as symbols of peace, reconciliation and democracy, has sanitised their heroism and obscured the historical context of the struggles they took part in. This makes it too easy for those people who now wish to claim association with what both men have come to symbolically represent to disguise the fact that they once regarded both men as villains who they wished to see in prison or even dead.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela on the other hand might have regarded themselves as brothers in arms.

 The Civil Rights movement in the USA, which is also taught in British schools is rarely discussed in the global context of the wider struggle by black people for freedom and recognition of their rights in Africa and the Caribbean. These movements in different places drew inspiration and support from each other. While en route to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King, who was himself influenced and inspired by India`s Mahatma Gandhi, spoke in London about the difficulties facing black people in South Africa. The following extracts from this speech are taken from the full text at this website

http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/speeches/africaking.php

 ”Clearly there is much in Mississippi and Alabama to remind South Africans of their own country, yet even in Mississippi we can organise to register Negro voters, we can speak to the press, we can in short organise the people in non-violent action. But in South Africa even the mildest form of non-violent resistance meets with years of imprisonment, and leaders over many years have been restricted and silenced and imprisoned.”

 He acknowledged that the situation made non-violent action almost impossible and that one of the ways forward was through international solidarity that recognised that pressure needed to be put on the neo-colonialist states whose economies benefited from the exploitation and oppression of black South Africans.

“It is in this situation, with the great mass of South Africans denied their humanity, their dignity, denied opportunity, denied all human rights; it is in this situation, with many of the bravest and best South Africans serving long years in prison, with some already executed; in this situation we in America and Britain have a unique responsibility. For it is we, through our investments, through our Governments` failure to act decisively, who are guilty of bolstering up the South African tyranny.”

“Our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity. We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa – the action which African leaders have appealed for – in a massive movement for economic sanctions.”

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are presented as part of that rather bland pantheon of `inspiring` leaders and achievers inserted into the mainstream curriculum as a gesture to inclusive education. They are shorn of complexity, radicalism and controversy and presented in a version that does little to challenge young people`s and encourage them to question the way our society is organised in the way that they themselves did. Who teaches for example that Martin Luther King said this:

“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. . . . Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”  (From: `Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam`, New York, 1967).

I found this quote in an interview with US academic Jared Ball on The Real News Network here http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?Itemid=74&id=31&jumival=6101&option=com_content&task=view