MLK Wasn’t Very Popular When He Was Alive—Why That Should Give You Hope

The very name “Martin Luther King, Jr.” conjures up uniformly positive associations in most people. He's a national hero, a fighter for equality. Someone so beloved that he has his very own national holiday, an honor only given to the likes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There are movies about him, songs about him, statues of him. His name is synonymous with freedom and justice.

At least, it is now. But when the civil rights leader was alive—and his movement was in full swing—that was far from the case. In fact, a majority of white people disliked King and the civil rights movement.

Public opinion polls from the 1960s show that large numbers of people disapproved of the Freedom Riders (61%), sit-ins (57%), demonstrations (73%), the March on Washington (60%), and King himself (50%). That is, large numbers of white people. African-Americans were on the side of King and the movement in overwhelming numbers.

mlk march washington
Image via Getty/Bettmann

King's deification happened very slowly. As recently as the 1980s, during the struggle to make his birthday a national holiday (a practice that wasn't accepted by all 50 states until 2000!), Senator Jesse Helms was against the idea because he said King was an advocate of “action-oriented Marxism,” whatever that is. To this day, several Southern states give a middle finger (or, more properly, a white power hand sign) to King by celebrating his birthday alongside Robert E. Lee's.

The fact that public opinion on King changed after historic goals were accomplished should not be discouraging, though. If anything, it should provide inspiration to people invested in the success of current movements for racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has popularity levels similar to, if not better than, the civil rights movement in its heyday. A 2017 survey showed that 57% of voters surveyed had an “unfavorable view” of BLM. A 2016 Pew survey of Americans (not just voters) showed the movement faring even better: 43% support, almost identical to the 2017 poll. However, in this sample, only 22% of people were in opposition. In a marker of how big a constituency is still in play, about 30% of people either were unfamiliar with the movement or had no opinion.

So this incarnation of the movement for racial justice is actually starting from a comparable, if not better, position in terms of public support than the fight to end segregation and ensure African-Americans the right to vote. It seems likely that the Movement for Black Lives can make similar strides in today's fights against racist police violence and incarceration policies and for economic justice.

St. Louis demo
Image via Getty/Michael B. Thomas

The dirty little secret about popular movements is that you don't actually have to be that popular to get things done. When victories begin to happen in earnest, plenty of people will join the winning side—often with no acknowledgement that they were ever missing.

This is true even of wars. When the American revolution started, only a third of the people in the colonies were in favor of it. The rest were evenly split between being against it and being indifferent. Many of those people (at least those who didn't move to Canada) were patriots by war's end. It is easy to imagine a similar quiet opinion shift over time on, say, the Michael Brown or Sandra Bland cases. 

There’s certain to be a day when “Black Lives Matter” becomes as iconic—and uncontroversial—a statement as “I Have a Dream.” Let’s hope we get there soon.

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NYPD Officers Rallied in Support of Colin Kaepernick

At least 75 active and former officers of the New York Police Department held a rally Saturday in support of NFL free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick opted out of the final year of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers and remains unsigned, with many suspecting NFL teams avoiding him due to his choice to refrain from standing during the National Anthem last season. There are no specific NFL rules requiring players to stand for the anthem, but Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated and later kneel, was viewed by some media pundits as disrespectful to police officers and members of the armed forces.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told when asked about his choice to sit in August of 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Officers on hand at Saturday’s #ImWithKap Rally agreed with Kaepernick about the larger issue of unarmed black men and women being killed during what were viewed as seemingly routine police stops.

“We can confirm that the issues he is saying exist in policing and throughout the criminal justice system indeed exist,” one participant said.

Frank Serpico, whose allegations of police corruption in the 1970s were chronicled in the eponymous 1973 film Serpico, was also on hand.

Kaepernick’s choice to sit during the anthem followed the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, among others. In each case, unarmed black men were killed by armed police officers. Kaepernick’s remarks about “people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” likely reference the lack of an indictment in each case.

The choice of having the rally in New York added another storyline, as Giants co-owner John Mara was one of the few NFL owners to explain his reasoning for passing on signing Kaepernick.

“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara told Sports Illustrated. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, moreso than any other issue I’ve run into.”

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Edward Crawford, the Ferguson Protester Captured in Iconic Photo, Found Dead

Edward Crawford—the man best known for being photographed while hurling a canister of tear gas during the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri sparked by Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown in 2014—was found dead in his car on Thursday. Crawford was scheduled to meet with his attorney Jerryl Christmas that day to discuss a plea deal tied to the charge he was given for “interfering” with police during the protests in Ferguson. Crawford is the third prominent protester involved in the events in Ferguson to die within the last three years, and his death comes under similarly controversial circumstances.

Deadre Joshua was discovered shot and burned in his own car in November 2014. News of Joshua’s killing came in conjunction with headlines revealing that a grand jury declined to convict Wilson for killing Brown.

In September 2016, police declared the death of fellow Ferguson activist Darren Seals a homicide after his corpse was found in a burning vehicle. Seals was reportedly shot before his body was found.

Crawford, whose death comes just shy of his 28th birthday, was one of hundreds of Ferguson protesters charged by St. Louis County for assault and interfering with a police officer in the wake of protests surrounding Brown’s killing. The now-iconic photo of Crawford lobbing a teargas canister won the the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2015. The aforementioned charges stem from a belief Crawford was throwing the canister back at police officers, but Crawford repeatedly maintained he was throwing the canister away so it wouldn’t affect nearby children.

Much like Joshua and Seals, Crawford was shot in a vehicle. However, the cause of his death is under investigation after initially being ruled a suicide. According to police reports obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Crawford was in the rear seat of a car occupied by two women.

“The women told police that Crawford had started talking about how distraught he was over 'personal matters,'” wrote Post-Dispatch reporter Kim Bell. “They heard him rummaging for something in the backseat, and the next thing they knew he shot himself in the head.”

Crawford’s father has gone on the record and said he doesn’t believe the police account of his son’s death. It should be noted that this is the same police force that was the subject of a 2015 Department of Justice report noting that 67 percent of African-Americans in Ferguson accounted for 93 percent of the city’s arrests made from 2012 through 2014. The report went on to add that the disproportionate number of tickets, arrests, and use of force stemmed from what was deemed “unlawful bias” and not black people committing more crimes.

It’s unclear where Crawford’s body was found. He leaves behind four children. Community leaders and those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement publicly expressed their condolences upon hearing of Edwards’ death.

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Where Will Kendrick Lamar’s Next Studio Album Take Us?

Kendrick Lamar has a way of putting the entire music world on high alert. The Compton wordsmith signaled his grand return in dramatic fashion by dropping “The Heart Part 4” on Thursday night. After calling himself the greatest rapper alive and rattling off subliminal disses presumably aimed at Big Sean and Drake, Kendrick ends the shape-shifting track with a presumed release date for his next LP, gift wrapped as a warning to rivals: “Y'all got 'til April the 7th to get y'all shit together.”

So there you have it. Eleven days from today, Kendrick Lamar is coming…with something. But just where does one of rap’s most important voices go following the massive masterpiece that is To Pimp a Butterfly? He dropped some hints earlier this month in an interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, describing the project as timely and “very urgent.”

“I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork,” he said. “To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem. I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore. We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system.”

He continued with an analogy about watching a hypothetical daughter mature into a woman. “At one point in time I may have a little girl who grows up and tells me about her engagements with a male figure—things that most men don’t want to hear,” he said. “Learning to accept it, and not run away from it, that’s how I want this album to feel.”

The two themes—confronting the inevitable and the significance of religion in the midst of political havoc—evoke the idea of meeting with God in the afterlife. Kendrick alludes to this in “The Heart Part 4” via his burn of America’s so-called leader (“Donald Trump is a chump/Know how we feel, punk? Tell 'em that God comin’”). DMX has talks with both the devil (“Damien”) and the Lord (“The Convo”) on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, the album that first inspired a young K-Dot to write his own raps. Perhaps Kendrick plans to address the same grapple on his next work.

Focusing on a higher power would be consistent with the trajectory of Kendrick Lamar’s studio albums thus far. Each LP finds him broadening his scope, almost as if he’s adjusting to the size and diversity of his audience. Section.80 homes in on the experience of ’80s babies brought up in the midst of Reaganomics and the crack epidemic. Its 2012 follow up, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, paints with wider strokes, portraying the perils of growing up on the red-and-blue patrolled blocks of Compton, which really serves as a microcosm for Any Hood, U.S.A. To Pimp a Butterfly and its well-received leftovers Untitled Unmastered are generally concerned with the plight of black Americans (the former has been notably described as “overwhelmingly black”). Religion would not be new terrain for Kendrick—GKMC concludes with a life-changing baptism and TPAB’s “How Much A Dollar Cost” is about an encounter with a panhandler who turns out to be God. Yet the time seems appropriate to musically explore spirituality in greater depth, especially after Chance the Rapper blurred the line between spiritual and secular rap last year with Coloring Book.

As for politics, things done changed since the last time Kendrick compiled an album. TPAB dropped in the wake of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice’s murders by police officers, days when movements like Black Lives Matter were beginning to really find momentum. Kendrick took it all in and spit out a soundtrack of survival (“We gon’ be alright”), self-care (“I love myself”), self-esteem (“Complexion don’t mean a thing”) and self-worth (“This dick ain’t free”). And while each of those themes remains important, for many the socio-political climate has shifted from survival to resistance. Kendrick has the opportunity to make angrier—or to use his words, “very urgent”—music to keep listeners fighting the good fight against America’s first (and, God-willing, last) orange president. He could pack his new LP with tracks that are more Public Enemy than A Tribe Called Quest, more “The Blacker The Berry” than “You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said).”

Alternatively, Kendrick could blow minds with an album that aims to be an easier listen than its predecessor. Maybe he’s cooking up music designed to take your mind off the clusterfuck in the nation’s capital and its ensuing whitelash, calling up the likes of Quavo, Travis Scott, and Metro Boomin to compile a project full of trunk rattlers and trap-friendly pop hits. Aside from toning down Kendrick’s sometimes heavy songs, it’d be an interesting wrinkle in his rivalries with Drake and Big Sean, who’ve enjoyed better success on the singles charts (please believe there will be some shots at both on the new project, whether subliminal or Kurupt-like).

If K-Dot really wanted to come from left field, he could drop a primarily sung release—he told Rick Rubin last year that he could envision himself one day creating a project where he’s not rapping. “I think I got the confidence for it,” he said. “If I can master the idea and make the time to approach it the right way, I think I can push it out.” (You get a sense of that side of Kendrick’s abilities on Mac Miller’s “God Is Fair, Sexy, Nasty,” from The Divine Feminine.)

A document purported to be Kendrick’s upcoming LP credits surfaced on the internet Saturday, citing Andre 3000, D’Angelo, and Kanye West as collaborators. Despite a thoroughness that includes sample credits and publisher information, it seems to be the imaginative work of an obsessive troll—producer Cardo has debunked it via Twitter, and one song is even titled “Counterfeit.” The takeaway: Only Kendrick Lamar knows what the next entry of his catalog holds.

“Everything is going to make sense—not only to myself but to anybody who wants to understand life and music,” Kendrick told the Guardian in 2015 of his follow-up to TPAB. “I know exactly what I want to say next.” We’re all ears, Kenny.

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