Like millions around the world, I watched the funeral
of Coretta Scott King with fond remembrances and pain. When I was
a struggling doctoral student, Mrs. King and Dr. Martin Luther,
King, Jr. were very kind to me as I did my research and wrote my
dissertation, "Martin Luther King, Jr.: Rhetorician of Revolt."
My initial interviews at the King home came at considerable inconvenience
to the family, because Dr. King was sick with the flu, and soon
had to leave his sick bed to attend the funeral of President John
F. Kennedy who had been assassinated a few days earlier. Nevertheless,
Dr. King, the great man and great humanitarian that he was, allowed
me to sit at his bed side and conduct my interviews. Mrs. King brought
our meals to his bed side. I shall never forget her grace and kindness.
I was to interview her several times more.
The death of Coretta Scott King brings back all the
memories of the marches, the bombing of their home, the church bombing
that killed four innocent Black children, the beatings, the dogs,
the water hoses and the stabbing of Dr. King in Harlem. It brings
back the memory of Dr. King's assassination and the wound it left
in me that has never healed. I remember the march we took from his
funeral, through Atlanta to Morehouse College, the march that brought
some small measure of relief.
When I learned that President George W. Bush had changed
his plans and intended to attend and speak at the funeral of Coretta
Scott King, I was reminded of the phone call presidential candidate
John F. Kennedy made in 1960 to Martin Luther King, Sr. to give
his support to his jailed son, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was
said that Kennedy's phone call tipped the balance. Daddy King threw
his support to Kennedy, who received the majority of the Black vote
and won a close contest against Richard Nixon.
However, in the case of the present president, Black
voters must not be fooled. We must not be deceived by President
Bush's decision to go to Atlanta. A president whose government allowed
thousands of people, mostly Black, to suffer without food or water,
without medications, to die in New Orleans and the Gulf states;
a president whose budget had severely cut the allocation to reinforce
the levees; a president whose elections were stolen by disenfranchising
Black voters in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004; a president whose
budgets have made savage cuts for education and health; a president
who has appointed two justices to the Supreme Court who are likely
to overturn Roe v. Wade, a woman's right to choose, and who are
likely to attempt to return America to the pre- Brown days of overt
racism and disenfranchisement; a president who defends the right
to invade personal privacy; and a president who sends our young
men and women to die in an immoral and illegal war, is no friend
of people of African descent. Kanye was right.
Importantly, we also cannot be fooled by the Black
Faith-based, self-anointed "Bishops" of mega churches
who seduce and beguile depressed, often defeated African Americans,
whose largess allows them to fly their private jets, drive Rolls
Royces and live baronial existences. Instead of advocating to their
congregations that they should organize and take direct political
action, even civil disobedience as Dr. King consistently urged to
secure the "blessings of liberty " to which they are entitled,
these "Bishops," whose already sizeable incomes are supplemented
by the Republican government's Faith-based Initiative grants, use
powerful propaganda oratory to convince their congregations that
God will take care of their needs, and, not incidentally, to support
President Bush and vote Republican.
"Bishop" Eddie Long, in whose New Birth
Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia where Mrs. King's funeral was
held is typical of the increasing number of money driven Black preachers.
It is a cruel irony that the funeral was held in Long's church rather
than Ebenezer where Coretta Scott King was a member, where Dr. King
was pastor and where his funeral was held. Preacher Eddie Long
is the very antithesis of what Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, stood
for. In 2004, Bishop Long led a demonstration in Atlanta to the
tomb of Dr. King to protest a woman's right to choose and to denounce
the right of individuals to marry persons of the same sex. Among
the thousands of supporters who marched with preacher Long was Dr.
King's daughter, Bernice, a minister at New Birth. Instead of the
social justice and freedom advocated by the Kings, preacher Long
endorses the conservative mandates of the Republican government.
Coretta Scott King opposed the march, and reaffirmed her stance
for human rights and social justice.
"Bishop" T.D. Jakes, whose mega church in
Dallas has a reputed congregation of 30, 000 members, and who sells
"blessings" for $50, $500 or whatever larger sum he can
was also a speaker at Mrs. King's funeral, though his brief words
were hollow, unlike the bombastic oratory for which he is well known.
Like Bishop Long, Bishop Jakes is a friend and supporter of President
Bush and the Republican government's Project
for a New American Century. Simply stated, PNAC is a plan conceived
by powerful white Republicans in the early 1990s for the United
States to control the world. PNAC's creators included Richard Cheney,
Donald Rumsfeld and Jeb Bush.
As I listen to the oratory and read the writings and
statements of the religious leaders of the Black Faith-based Initiatives,
I recall the social doctrines of the late Pope John Paul II. The
Polish Pope John Paul II silenced and excommunicated priests who
espoused liberation theology of social justice to the poor of Latin
America. Interestingly, Pope John Paul II had been elected Pope
after his predecessor, a more liberal Italian Pope John Paul I,
mysteriously fell ill and died one month after installation. Not
incidentally, the architect of the harsh social doctrines of Pope
John Paul II was the present German Pope Benedict XVI. The Haitian
priest Jean Bertrand Aristide, later to become president of Haiti,
resigned his priesthood in protest of the Vatican's support for
the Haitian church's complicity with brutal dictatorships.
When Pope John Paul II visited New York City in 1979,
my teaching schedule allowed me to listen to every major televised
address he gave in the city: St. Paul's Cathedral, Yankee Stadium,
Shea Stadium. Of special significance was the outdoor address he
gave in Harlem. His Harlem message was to live a good Christian
life and prepare for the next life. There was no hint of urging
resistance to the oppression of racism and its effects in education,
employment, health, housing and political participation.
Complicity with brutal dictatorships and the use of
religion to attempt to silence resistance is the model for present
day Faith-based Initiatives and their self-serving innovators in
Black pulpits. President Bush and his paid friends in Black pulpits
are the enemies of the Black masses. The mesmerizing sermons these
ministers preach dull the awareness of the oppression their congregants
face daily and instead promise them a better after life. The religious
induced docility is intended to silence and prevent any revolt of
the Black masses as witnessed in the 1960s.
People of African descent are better advised to support
ministers who, like Dr. King, preach the social gospel of Rheinhold
Niebuhr and its modern version of liberation theology which exhorts
its congregants to oppose tyrants who suppress descent and to organize
politically and economically to bring about social justice. The
self-anointed multi-millionaire "Bishops" of the silver
oratory who serve the interests of the world conquering imperialists
should be exposed and deposed. They are not our leaders and we are
As hard as Bishop Long, the ultra conservative Reverend
Bernice King and the Republican Party sought to control the funeral
discourse, denying the likes of civil rights veterans Jesse Jackson,
John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian the opportunity to speak, as
well as preventing Reverend Al Sharpton and Congresswoman Cynthia
McKinney, in whose district the funeral was held, from speaking
and – the unkindest cut of all – disinviting Harry Belafonte who
marched with Dr. King, who gave large amounts of money and who consoled
Coretta Scott King when her husband was assassinated, nevertheless
the truth was heard. As Dr. King said many times, "Truth crushed
to earth shall rise again." And truth did emerge from the mouth
of President Jimmy Carter who underscored the present controversy
of wiretapping American citizens by reminding the mourners of FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover's wiretapping of Dr. King, whom he had
threatened with disclosure of intimate information. President Carter
was the only one of the four presidents who spoke of the government's
mishandling of the Katrina tragedy, and he stated that the nation
has not yet "achieved equal opportunity for all Americans."
And truth emerged from Reverend Joseph Lowery, co-founder with Dr.
King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who said there
were no weapons of mass destruction and that Coretta Scott King
had criticized that money spent for the war should have been spent
to fight poverty in America. And truth came from the poetry of Maya
Angelou who made a point of saluting Harry Belafonte. The truth
The most that can be said about the tortured, illogical
eulogy/sermon delivered by Mrs. King's daughter, Bernice, is that
those four King children deserve our pity and love for the tragic
circumstances of their childhood. When Bernice King, possessor
of three degrees, including degrees in divinity and law, said "God
is not looking for another Martin Luther King or Coretta Scott,
the old has passed away, there is a new order that is emerging,"
I hardly knew what to think, as many of the mourners must have been
puzzled. Did Bernice King imply that she is the new emergent order,
along with her "mentor" Eddie Long? Heaven help us.
The Black Church can be an important instrument of
Black liberation as it was during the 1960s under the leadership
of selfless men like Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The Black
Church can also be the new oppression led by preachers who become
enormously wealthy by deluding the Black masses who suffer the daily
indignities of racism. It is the responsibility of Black intellectuals,
degreed or non-degreed, the enlightened Black media, like BlackCommentator.com
and enlightened Black politicians like Cynthia McKinney and John
Conyers to help our people to know the difference.
We have lost the great warriors, Dr. Martin Luther,
King, Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz, Rosa Parks and now Coretta Scott King.
We must teach our children forever the meaning of the sacrifices,
the teachings, and the love of these noble ancestors. Our liberation
depends on it.
Dr. Donald H. Smith is
Associate Provost and Professor (Emeritus), Bernard M. Baruch College,
the City University of New York. He can be contacted at Dohugh@aol.com.