The Wright side of history


Pop quiz.

Name the controversial black pastor, once allied with a charismatic young presidential candidate, who called America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," before decrying how, in a "madness" fed by the "immense profits of overseas investment," the country "poisoned the international atmosphere" by falling "victim to ... deadly Western arrogance" and propping up a foreign government that is "singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support?" He's also noted concern about America worshipping "the God of Hate" at "the alter of retaliation."

Maybe you're thinking of Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor whose provocative sermons have recently caused problems for his highest profile congregant, presidential contender Barack Obama.

Well, that's wrong. The answer is Martin Luther King Jr., who said all of those things in an April 1967 speech in Riverside, California. You can read and listen to it here.

Now you can start drawing distinctions between King's form of dissent and the more highly publicized snippets of Wright's technique. And that's fine. I could make a list myself. But my point here is that King wasn't always the meek and mild voice he's often portrayed to be today. Though I think the way forward pointed to by King, and echoed again last week by Obama, is still well captured by the voice of Langston Hughes, who, grievanced as he was, envisioned the possibility of a more perfect union to come:

O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!