Review of The Choice – The Black Poor

MLK Time CoverA Review of The Choice by Samuel Yette
By Atiba King (1998)

The Choice is a book that was originally published in 1971. This carefully researched book was and is a classic in truthful, investigative reporting. It is more timely today than it was 30 years ago for one simple reason:


Chapter 4

A: The Black poor put it together

Various aspects of the non-violent movement as led by SCLC are analyzed and examined in this section. Mr. Yette begins with a short story about an incident that occurred during the 1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. A white man from Texas wrote a letter simply addressed to “the nigger preacher”. The U.S. postal service automatically delivered it to Dr. Martin L. King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala. Dr. King raised issues of Black Americans obtaining freedom, justice, and equality from Dec. 1955 to the spring of 1967. He received hate mail from his critics and enemies throughout this period. The hate mail intensified when he began to include economic issues in his speeches in the mid 1960’s.

A portion of a letter that he wrote to President Johnson in August of 1966 pleading the case of the Black poor is included in the book. Dr. King spoke of poor, homeless Mississippi delta Negroes going to Greenville Air Force Base (which was empty) seeking shelter during the previous winter. Federal troops forcibly drove them off the base. He speaks of another group of Negroes in Washington County, Miss. struggling to make it thru the winter living in tents. “477,732 citizens of Mississippi get welfare but not these homeless, jobless Negroes.” The last sentence printed of his letter states, “Callous disregard of the Federal Government for their plight and the plight of tens of thousands of other poor Mississippi Negroes makes a mockery of all the humanitarian ideals this nation espouses throughout the world.”

Mr. Yette points out that this last sentence, “alerted his supporters and enemies alike that Dr. King might overstep traditional concerns of the civil rights movement.” I think it alarmed his supporters more than his enemies. His enemies wanted him to take this step because he could then be isolated from the others. His supporters were scared that they would be stuffed into the same box white folks were going to cram Martin in. I personally remember white reporters going to other so-called Negro leaders asking them what they felt of Dr. King making moves to tie the civil rights movement with the peace and human rights movements. Not one of his “allies” in other civil rights organizations unequivocally supported his attempts, however timid, to combine these issues.

In Mr. Yette’s opinion, “…to friends and supporters it would not only be untactical, but the ultimate folly as well.” Let’s take a minute to analyze the responses and public attitudes of people with whom Dr. King supposedly shared interests and ideals. Their words, both spoken and unspoken, told white people and the world that if Dr. King continued in his attempt to link those issues he was being stupid, ridiculous, and foolhardy. That they would not go there with him. They did not have his back!!! Dr. King was like a young buck that gets tired of running from the lions. He stepped out of the pack, stated his case, and looked around to see who stood with him. Everyone had taken a step back! They would sell the cause out before they would die for the cause! Here we stand thirty years later. Look at the results of the things they did and did not do. All of those chumps buried Dr. King then joined ranks with the evil lions that killed the strongest of them all, Dr. Martin Luther King.

Mr. Yette notes that Carl Rowan wrote an article in Readers Digest that goes into the details of Dr. King’s first public linking of starvation in Mississippi and the Vietnam massacres being part of the same war. King made these statements during a speech at New York’s Riverside Church. Among his many accusations, “He labeled the U.S. as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today and the war a cruel manipulation of the poor. That Vietnamese watch as we poison their water and as we kill a million acres of their crops. U.S. troops may have killed a million South Vietnamese civilians-mostly children. The government tests out our latest weapons just as the Germans tested out new medicines and new torture in the concentration camps of Europe. He accused President Johnson of lying about peace overtures from Hanoi and urged young Americans to become conscientious objectors.”

Answer a question for me as quick as you can. On what day was Dr. King assassinated? I know you said April 4, 1968. Check this out…the speech at Riverside Church was made on April 4,1967. His assassination was not an incident of metaphysical synchronicity! It was no accident that someone murdered him exactly one year to the day of when he crossed that line in the dirt. If any of the “Negro” leaders had the smallest inclination to follow Martin a clear message was sent in the form of the bullet that ended his life. They all disbanded the struggle and got jobs. They began sleeping with the enemy and conforming to his and her standards. The so-called civil rights struggle was over.

Martin told us all he had been to the mountaintop and had no fear. He was not speaking in a spiritual metaphor. He knew he stood alone but he had to tell the truth. He could lie to us no longer. He knew that the attempt of the so-called civil rights movement to appeal to the white man’s moral conscience could never work.  They have never, in their entire history, demonstrated that they have a conscience! If the white folks lack of a moral center wasn’t disgusting enough every “negro” on his side of the table was ready to betray their race at the slightest move by a white man to reach in his pocket for a little piece of silver or a white woman’s wink.

The rest of this section documents Ralph Abernathy and SCLC’s ineffective attempts to continue the standard civil rights plan in place when Martin was assassinated. The Poor People’s campaigns I and II in ’68 and ’69 respectively were unmitigated disasters. The politicians with real power took a holiday for the most part. Those who saw them on the hill dissed them. Some did it politely and some were all up in their face. Everywhere they went no matter what anyone else said Abernathy begged and pleaded to the same people who murdered his friend and leader. That was just pitiful!


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