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In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Martin Luther King Blvd doesn’t extend throughout the entire city. Instead, the street dedicated by its city officials to honor King’s life ends at the Frisco Railroad tracks. It reflects the unofficial racial dividing line, where 102 years ago, a White mob marched across them, destroying an entire Black neighborhood and massacring over 300 Black people of the business district famously dubbed Black Wall Street.

Even as the mayor conducts performative gestures in honor of Dr. King, as he’s done every year while in office, his lawyers are quietly fighting against a lawsuit seeking justice for the century-old crime.

Not only is the city’s half-finished MLK Blvd an insult to what Dr. King was striving to accomplish in his pursuit of better race relations, but during the Centennial Year of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Mayor G.T. Bynum told national media outlets that paying reparations to the Black survivors and descendants was too “divisive“, much like it was too divisive to extend MLK beyond the demarcation line. 

The week of Jan. 16 is often “a time of double talk when men in high places have a high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and an anemia of concrete performance,” as Dr. King stated in his famous “The Three Evils of Society” speech in 1967.

It is a time of double talk when men in high places have a high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and an anemia of concrete performance.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Dr. King’s “The Three Evils of Society”

Speaking at the National Conference on New Politics, Dr. King labeled racism, the excess of capitalism, and militarism as the three greatest threats to the progress of society.

It’s a speech that, if uttered today, would’ve drawn quiet contempt from liberals and vocal outrage from anti-woke conservatives. 

“Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization,” Dr. King said in his speech. Emphasizing the nation’s original sin, Dr. King labeled racism as the first of the three evils that threaten societal progress.

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Meanwhile, leaders around the nation today are engaged in an effort to minimize racism’s historic and contemporary impacts on society in the classroom.

Creating a boogeyman out of the truth, far-right leaders have banned books, incited hate against teachers, and are salivating at the idea of privatizing public education entirely.

Dr. King’s woke attitude toward racism

Yet fears of “left-wing indoctrination” in schools didn’t become an issue until America’s White youth began marching en masse with Black and Brown protesters against the police lynching of George Floyd. Those 2020 protests represented the largest and most diverse the nation has ever experienced.

In response, politicians are determined to pull society backward. It’s another white backlash to racial progress.

“The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new,” Dr. King said. “It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there.”

“The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And there’s nothing considered more hostile to conservative and liberal White Americans alike than the idea of paying reparations to Black people.

According to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 70% of Americans believe Black descendants of the enslaved should not receive reparations.

Broken down by race, 77% of Black Americans support reparations, while only 18% of White Americans support it. And when it comes to political parties, over 90% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats oppose reparations for Black Americans.

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Dr. King scoffed at those so opposed to the idea of economic justice, when White Americans and European immigrants have benefitted from land grant programs that essentially created generational wealth for millions of families, no strings attached.

“And these are the same people that now say to Black people, whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat; that they must pull themselves up by their own  bootstraps,” Dr. King said.

“What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor.”

Calling out capitalism

And while some may be quick to call out blatant racism from right-wing groups and individuals, Dr. King would’ve drawn equal rebuke from liberals who eagerly ignore his woke opposition to poverty.

Whether it’s homelessness, the minimum wage or redlined communities, many in society view poverty as an unpleasant cog in the chain of capitalism, a necessary evil that gives motivation to work.

Yet how is it that the wealthiest nation in the history of the world has the 10th highest poverty rate among developed nations?

Establishing the Poor People’s Campaign, a nationwide intersectional movement to demand universal employment and living wages, Dr. King condemned the extreme materialism that capitalism produces as the second evil threatening the future of the United States.

“The fact is that Capitalism was build on the exploitation and suffering of Black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both Black and White, both here and abroad.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pigs will fly before you see a city leader or politician from any major party sharing that quote.

It’s a reminder that, much like his body, Dr. King’s woke legacy has faced assassination at the hands of a government and society determined to pacify resistance to systemic oppression. 

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Dr. King said “no” to war

And before Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, he became vocally opposed to the global oppression that militarism brings to innocent civilians around the world. Even as support for military aid to Ukraine remains mostly bipartisan, it’s doubtful that Dr. King would’ve seen more war as the solution to international threats.

Even before Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine began, the U.S. was spending hundreds of billions of dollars more on defense than on any domestic program.

“A nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense then on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” Dr. King said.

President Biden has requested a whopping $773 billion for the 2023 defense budget.

“Our department’s budget will help us continue to defend the nation, take care of our people and succeed through teamwork with our allies and partners,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III stated.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet none of that money goes toward improving the everyday lives of Americans at home.

Around 20 million Americans live in areas designated as having concentrated poverty,  including one in five Black people, according to Brookings.

These areas lead to disparities in which some residents are more likely to earn less, more likely to be incarcerated, and where they’re projected to die 5.7 years earlier.

“We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order,” Dr. King said.

By daring to call out the systemic evils of racism, capitalism, and war — domestic and abroad, Dr. King’s woke views would’ve been rejected by the same people painting him as a passive mascot today.

Dr. King represented everything anti-woke conservatives hate today: a conscious determination to address the systemic ways racism, capitalism and militarism hinder our society.

Unless addressed in a reparative way, they threaten the very fabric of the nation.

“Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...