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By Subhash Kateel

As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, I am sure we will hear a few renditions of his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  In some ways, I wish I could hear his never written speech “I Would Have Never Imagined…” Because I am pretty sure that King would’ve never dreamed of a President Obama.  I am also certain that he would’ve never imagined that President Obama would sign a bill like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would tarnish both of their legacies, and potentially revive the same practices used to target King during the Civil Rights Movement. 
If you haven’t heard, the NDAA is a bill recently passed by Congress and signed by the President over the holidays.   It would, among other things, give the President power to detain a US citizen indefinitely and without trial. If the NDAA has a legacy in common with King, it can be found in the insane things our federal law enforcement agencies did while trying to destroy King and his predecessors-leaders and thinkers they often considered enemies of the state.  I am sure that this weekend will be filled with a lot of clichés.  I hope that one of them is the one about those forgetting history being destined to repeat it.
There are a few folks that feel safe in knowing that the NDAA would only affect “terrorists.” Others openly ask who under the NDAA can be considered one. History has easy answers in the lives of WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey and King himself. 
WEB Du bois did many things that I can’t justify explaining in a few sentences. Besides his historic writings like the Souls of Black Folk, he is most well know for helping to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the most respected African American organizations ever.   Just last week,  Newt Gingrich also called the NAACP “one of the most left-wing.”  Gingrich shared that belief in common with many of his early 20th century equivalents;  except when they said it back then, they referred to Du bois’ belief that lynching Black folks by the thousands was a GOD-awful thing to do.   Du bois, despite being one of the most prolific social thinkers and writers in American history was falsely accused (because of his opposition to nuclear weapons) by the US Justice Department of working as an agent of a foreign state.  One of the preferred legal weapons used against him (under the McCarran Act) was the frequent confiscation of his passport, once hindering his travel abroad for eight years.  The last attempt to restrict his travel happened in 1963, while he was already in Ghana.  Considering this the last straw,  Du bois became a citizen of Ghana and died there two years later.
Marcus Garvey was a controversial person with incredible skill for building mass consciousness and organization to back it up (thanks to equally skilled first and second spouses). Him and Du bois rarely saw eye-to-eye,  unless eye-to-eye is being called “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.”  But a lot of others adored Garvey, like 2 to 5 million others.  He created the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), what many consider the largest Black member-based organization ever.  The UNIA had a newspaper translated into three languages and read on three continents.  While some things he did, like meeting with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, drew the scorn of established Black leaders, the enterprises he started, his bold ideals, and his insistence on Black being beautiful (long before it became popular) captured the imagination of millions.  His ideas and his immigration status (he was a legal immigrant from Jamaica) also caught the eye of the Bureau of Investigation (now the FBI) and its head, J. Edgar Hoover.  In 1919, the Bureau took the unprecedented move of actually hiring Black law enforcement agents to infiltrate Garvey’s organization, desperately seeking a reason to deport him.  This was despite an early memo from field agents insisting that “he [Garvey] has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against …from the point of view of deportation.”  The feds desire to deport Garvey finally gained ground as he was charged with  mail fraud through means that by any modern accounts would be considered entrapment.   In 1927, Garvey was deported to Jamaica and the UNIA soon fell apart.  J Edgar Hoover, on his way to becoming the America’s most ruthless law enforcement agent, now had a model he could use to go after future Black leaders, including King.
Hoover and the FBI’s particular fetish for destroying MLK is by now old news.  In 1963, he was considered “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country” by Hoover’s agency.  This led the feds to follow him, wiretap him (with the approval of both JFK and RFK) and send him letters that all but encouraged him to commit suicide.

Fast-forward to 2012.  J Edgar Hoover’s entire legacy is forever in question, while the bulk of Dubois’ and King’s legacies are forever vindicated.   Garvey’s entrepreneurial spirit and words of grand encouragement are either oft replicated or thoroughly missed (even if his crazy antics aren’t).  But soon to be missed are also the imperfect checks and balances that sort of kind of discourage law enforcement from doing to Americans what they did to King, Du bois, and others.   On Monday, as we celebrate the life of a King, we should ask ourselves, “will the next person with a courageous and controversial dream find themselves in a government sponsored, indefinite nightmare?”

Don’t forget to tune into our radio program every Wednesday at 7pm, right here.

To listen to our segment on the NDAA, you can download it here or press play below:

To listen to our segment/tribute to MLK, you can download it here or press play below: