Humanism and Civil Rights

I watched the MLK/FBI movie before reading Baldwin’s No Name in the Street, which ultimately offered me a much more nuanced approach to the tapes and FBI targeting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was aware of the tapes and their revealed contents, but the extent to which the FBI’s involvement in trying to take down MLK surprised me, especially given how personal a task this was for J. Edgar Hoover. I did appreciate the reiteration at the end of the movie that the actions of Hoover and the FBI were fully funded and supported by the state, regardless of how personal its motivations were for Hoover. The White House’s involvement in the surveillance and exposing of MLK’s private life is a direct violation of constitutional rights, but that is still undercut at every turn. This should not have surprised me as much as it did. McCarthyism, Red Scare tactics, and the government’s actions against the Civil Rights Movement seem criminally under-taught, partially because they obviously show the government has no real care for its citizens, and partially because omitting these contexts leaves out a lot of nuance to very important events. Obviously doing so would erode trust in the government, which is already at an all-time-low, but I think constructive distrust of the government is warranted. 

This movie also highlights the absolute ludicrousness of modern complaints about being in a leftist police state. Claims that lawsuits and basic accountability are political tyranny while Civil Rights and BLM protestors are shot, tear-gassed, assaulted, wire-tapped, bugged, defamed, and assassinated are utterly ridiculous, and the ultimate double standard on what it means to be White versus what it means to be Black in America. The involvement of the Kennedy’s and LBJ made the FBI actions under Hoover a literal police state. 

As for Baldwin, he offers a far better insight while talking about the different worlds of public and private life. Baldwin refers to his far more intimate relationship with MLK and also points out that many people, like his friend back in Harlem, completely idolized MLK without knowing MLK himself. Not that this takes away from MLK’s character, it just serves as a very valuable reminder that we tend to idolize public and historical figures that we do not know. Remembering that those figures are people like us, with flaws like us, would make the contents of the tapes, while still being problematic and indicative of another double-standard against women in the Civil Rights Movement, be less consequential to the controversy and legacy of MLK. And there should be no challenge to the legacy of MLK. 

Lastly, I am honestly unsure about the revealing of the tapes in 2027 as the movie references. I think they should be publicized for nothing else but transparency, but I ultimately think Baldwin’s point is the most important one. We should not ignore those tapes, but we should not let them make us forget that the people on the other side of the line, whether that’s race, culture, wealth, status, or history, are people too.

One thought on “Humanism and Civil Rights”

  1. I appreciate your insights on not only the movie, but on Baldwin. The continuous mistrust of the government has been an ongoing issue for years, with the involvement of ‘exposing’ MLK as just another example. I think that even now, people idolize celebrities without ever truly knowing them. It is important to remember that even though we may see people on a bigger stage, must remember that they are still human and are truly normal like we are.

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