Conjuring the Radical Dr. King
A new MLK Day event emphasizes the reverend's lesser-known orations
1) Who said: "Somebody told a lie one day. ... They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary, and see the synonyms of the word 'black' – it's always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word 'white' – it's always something pure, high, and clean"?
2) Who said: "We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit"?
3) Who said: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"?
If you said 1) Malcolm, 2) Malcolm, 3) MLK, you would be ... wrong! In fact, MLK said all three.
"The portrayal of MLK we see most often stops at 1963 with 'I Have a Dream,'" says Jonathan Mahone, one-half of the husband-and-wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm (aka, RAS). He and his wife, Ghislaine Jean-Mahone, recently relocated from Providence, R.I., to pursue their love in the world's live music capital.
"'I Have a Dream' is an important speech," says Mahone, "but Dr. King began talking beyond race in America and how American politics was affecting other countries, how imperialism was infecting the globe."
So while the traditional Austin Area Heritage Council parade and festivities preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be filling Austin with the uplifting message of the man's legacy, the Orun Center of Cultural Arts – a small, unassuming new arts locus that the Mahones have become involved in – will not-so-quietly honor the civil rights leader with excerpts from some of his more controversial speeches, the ones not usually taught alongside his best-known, more optimistic orations.
Whereas most MLK Day celebrations allow a cursory, even academic observance of King's radicalization, the young people at Orun embrace and run with it. "Leaders are supposed to give you that strength to break the barriers. That's the MLK I look to," Mahone says. "When Dr. King went to Chicago and saw the poverty, he couldn't believe it. The people forced him to change, to radicalize. That's a true leader. Willing to analyze and change. He was ready to stand up and rep for them. Civil rights leaders gave him a lot of flak – thought he was rocking the boat. Once Dr. King started talking about the politics of America abroad, that's when he became a threat."
Divine & Conjure: A Musical Tribute to MLK Jr. will feature performances from RAS, hip-hop artists Blacklisted Individuals, and acid-jazz-funk band Makalani Movement. The Orun Center opened in November and is home to the nonprofit Project Abundant Life, founded by capoeira master Dorian Layssard. This event also kicks off its bimonthly urban music series.
Divine & Conjure, Friday, Jan. 15, 8:30pm, Orun Center of Cultural Arts, 1401-B Cedar, 294-7872. $5, all-ages. www.projectabundantlife.org.
Watch Dr. King's speeches below: