Groups in Germany to remember Dr. King in different ways
January 15, 2007
In 1963, he was Time magazine’s Man of the Year.
Just four years later, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech the same magazine called “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.”
King is usually remembered today as the “slain civil rights leader,” beatified in death. But he was far more complex. Arrested repeatedly, beaten, hounded by the FBI, by 1967, he’d also become one of the country’s most prominent opponents of the Vietnam War — and American militarism. In a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam,” he called the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
This is not the sort of thing Willie Day will focus on at his speech at a U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg prayer breakfast Tuesday commemorating King.
“I plan to link Martin Luther King’s efforts and fight for freedom and equality to Army values,” said Day, U.S. Army, Europe’s values program manager and a retired command sergeant major. “He wasn’t a big Army supporter,” Day conceded. “But I still see him as a warrior.”
Another Heidelberg group associated with the U.S. military, however, will explore King’s later years, when he focused on class and poverty, called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and decried the Vietnam War as an immoral waste.
The Rhein-Neckar branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) plans an event at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Providence Church on Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse that is thought to be the only international commemoration of King’s birthday. It is the branch’s 21st King commemoration.
The event will include two speakers, both of whom knew King. One is German theologian Henrich Grosse, who has translated much of King’s work and spent time doing civil rights work in segregated Mississippi.
“Everybody loved the King of ‘I have a dream’ in 1963,” Grosse said. “But in his last years, he was not very popular. We should not smooth it out.”
It is this later King whom Grosse, who worked with King in Washington, D.C., shortly before he was assassinated, is interested in. “The late King who said we have to develop a world perspective, we have to be the voice of the voiceless … I will quote Vincent Harding, a black Mennonite. He called King ‘the inconvenient hero.’ ”
The Rhein-Neckar NAACP membership includes U.S. expatriates, Germans and Africans. But to maintain its ties with the military bases in Heidelberg, its membership must be at least 51 percent U.S. military members, said chapter president Rudy Howze.
Still, every year, the group commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. with speakers whose views may not match those of many Army sergeants or captains, let alone the commander in chief.
“I’m always sort of on pins and needles every year,” Howze said. “We don’t just get ‘Remembrance of Things Past.’ ”
Grosse also will address the role of the church in fighting oppression and injustice. While black Southern churches were a mainstay to the civil rights movement in the U.S., Grosse said, the German church, with few exceptions, behaved with shameful acquiescence during the Nazi’s extermination of European Jewry.
And Martin Luther, Germany’s Protestant hero (whom Martin Luther King Jr. was not named after), Grosse said, “wrote very anti-Semitic pieces.”
The keynote speaker will be Bernard LaFayette, who has been active in the American civil rights movement for half a century, when he was among the students who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and took part in the “freedom rides” in which integrated groups of student riders were sometimes beaten by angry Southern mobs.
He is now director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at Rhode Island University and is regarded as an expert in “nonviolent direct action” as a mode of social change.
LaFayette said in an e-mail his talk would focus on “Martin Luther King’s philosophy and strategy for social change and how it is relevant today to both communities and on the global level.”
The event, free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the German-American Institute and will include spiritual and gospel songs by the Mark Twain Village Gospel Choir.