Friday, December 6, 2019

Martin Luther King never supported reparations—his "check" referred to job programs and universal basic income

Identitarians claim Martin Luther King supported reparations and quote him saying, "We are coming to get our check." But when they do, they erase the context. The full quote is "Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign, we are coming to get our check." The campaign was the Poor People's Campaign, and the check was for all poor people.

King was a democratic socialist. He wanted to help all of the poor. He first supported guaranteed jobs, and then moved on to universal basic income.

In 1964, in Why We Can't Wait, he argued for a Bill for the Disadvantaged that would guarantee jobs to help all poor people. He explained, "Many poor whites...were the derivative victims of slavery. As long as labor was cheapened by the involuntary servitude of the black man, the freedom of white labor, especially in the South, was little more than a myth. ... It is a simple matter of justice that America, in dealing creatively with the task of raising the Negro from backwardness, should also be rescuing a large stratum of the forgotten white poor.”

In 1967, in Where Do We Go From Here?, he argued for basic income: “In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike. ... I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

The idea that King would support solutions that leave out the Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and white poor, thereby ignoring three-fourths of the poor, should immediately seem silly to anyone who knows anything about King. If you doubt that he was a democratic socialist, have two quotes:

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” -Martin Luther King

“If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.” —Martin Luther King