With a short story idea in mind, over the past few weeks I’ve read several biographical books on Martin Luther King, Jr. A couple of examples include the work of King’s supposed mistress Georgia Davis Powers’ I Shared the Dream. When I skipped to sections that claimed to provide what most readers wanted to know from a book like this, she provided cliffhangers like Martin invited me in and closed the door—then what? And then the following chapter goes on to another topic. Yawn. Ralph David Abernathy’s And the Walls Came Tumbling Down is a little better. He provided a few extra details about King’s character flaws and infidelities, but for obvious reasons Abernathy left out the names of the women—including Powers. My initial thoughts about Coretta Scott King’s biography include the fact that she didn’t keep it real. She makes some claims that are sometimes difficult to believe. I figured it was just me, until Michael Eric Dyson’s I May Not Get There With You addresses the same qualms. I believe his is my favorite King biographical sketch of all. I enjoyed how Dyson incorporated the lives and lyrics of hip-hop heads into an analysis and presentation of King’s life. Stephen B. Oates’ Let the Trumpet Sound is another great text, but of special note is the prologue where he reviews the difficulties with acquiring certain permissions from the King family.
But the truth is, I didn’t completely read any of these books. I read large chunks and portions, but I spent the most time reviewing the beginning and end of King’s life, flipping to the index even. Of course, the important stuff happened in the middle, and while we may think that we know those parts, these books are all filled with their share of surprising details obviously from a variety of perspectives.
Learning certain truths about the life of King only made me respect him more. Actually born January 15, 1929, as a national holiday we celebrate his date of birth on the third Monday in January. In honor of this day, allow me to share a Snopes.com link that disputes “Four Things You Didn’t Know About Martin Luther King” (2003):
1. His name wasn’t Martin Luther. It was Michael. It was decided ‘Martin Luther’ had a more prominent ring to it, so he went by that. He never legally changed his name. To this day, he lived and died as Michael King.
2. While working on his dissertation for his doctoral degree at Boston University, he heavily plagiarized from another author who had done research on a subject similar to King’s. An academic committee later found that over half of King’s work was plagiarized, yet would not revoke his doctrine. King was dead by this time, and the committee ruled that revoking the title would serve no purpose. It was also discovered that King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech was also not his own. He stole it from a sermon by Archibald Carey, a popular black preacher in the 1950’s.
3. King was under FBI surveillance for several years (until he died) due to his ties with communist organizations throughout the country. King accepted money from the organizations to fund his movements. In return, King had to appoint communist leaders to run certain districts of his SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), who then could project their communist ideas to larger audiences. A federal judge in the 60’s ruled that the FBI files on King’s links to communism to remain top-secret until 2027. Senator Jesse Helms appealed to the Supreme Court in 1983 to release the files, so the current bill in the Senate to create the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday could be abolished. He was denied.
4. One of King’s closest friends, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, wrote a book in 1989 in which he talked about King’s obsession with white prostitutes. King would often use church donations to have drunken sex parties, where he would hire two to three white prostitutes, occasionally beating them brutally. This has also been reported by the FBI agents who monitored King. King was married with four children.
Monday was “Martin Luther King” Day. A day when this country came to a screeching halt so we can have parades and memorials to honor this man, a man that most of the world views as a saint for his role in the civil rights movement.
No other public holiday in the United States honors a single individual. Of all the great leaders in our Nation’s history – none of them have their own holiday. All of our great war heroes share Memorial Day. All of our great presidents share President’s Day. Yet King – a man who was a phony, a cheater, a traitor, and a sexual degenerate – gets a day of his own.
And do your own research from time to time. Happy reading, y’all!