Paul Wilson: Martin Luther King, the Adultery of a Man and His Message

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MLK & Coretta

Talk about paradoxes…

On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated at the age of 39 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, as his horrified mistress remained inside his room. Since that day the resume of the man we’ve sainted with a national holiday has been scrubbed clean, Hallmark-carded and buried in an ocean of idolization and denial.

Why do we do this?

Is it merely out of our desire for perpetual protection of perceived perfection?

Dr. King appeared less than concerned about his own image. In a 1989 CSPAN interview his closest friend, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy said, “Dr. King did not want to be a saint or viewed as a saint. He was just a human being, capable of becoming and producing and leading his people out of the wilderness of segregation into the Promised Land.”

But that didn’t stop us.

Within hours of King’s death began his untouchable enshrinement in the hall of our greatest heroes — as an icon of civil rights. And certainly he deserved that.

3453532-1946432619However the version of Dr. King who came to Memphis that fateful day was different from the one we’ve come to venerate. If you recall, he came in support of the sanitation workers, trash haulers – people we might see as the ones Jesus called, “the least of these.”

By then, King was getting more death threats than dinner invitations. He had begun to drink and smoke too much and sleep too little. His repertoire had branched out into messages about the Vietnam War and redistribution of wealth – even less popular topics than the advancement of civil rights.

Dr. King’s final weeks had taken a tremendous toll on his life.

He talked constantly of taking a sabbatical, had endless premonitions of his own death and was at the lowest point of his life, the week before he was assassinated. Yet, apprehension and all, he stood and preached the words, “I’m not fearing any man!”

And he didn’t.

UnknownWhy do our anointed ones seem so often to have such enormous personal and moral failings? And do those failings take away from their message? The list is legion, from Bill Clinton to Thomas Jefferson to George H.W. Bush to Dwight Eisenhower and practically anyone with the last name Kennedy.

How to we separate the men from their messages? And do we need to?

Why is it we seem to think the yeoman’s work of changing the world is only something that can be done by a saint? Do we make our leaders superheroes in an effort to somehow let ourselves off the hook for our own shortcomings?

Like the trash men of Memphis King came to support, he was no different in many ways; just a man with a message.

King’s dalliances were too numerous to count, but one affair, the lady hidden in his hotel room that fateful day, was something different.

George H.W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald (as Barbara Bush looks on_

George H.W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald
(as Barbara Bush looks on_

Like the first President Bush, King thought of her as a second wife.

And J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI had King in the crosshairs and sent an audio tape of a sexual encounter to Coretta Scott King, his wife. At the time, she felt it was a FBI conspiracy to put an end to her husband’s message and career. And probably it was. Maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but this was light years before the Hillary “vast right wing conspiracy” excuse.

I won’t pretend to know Coretta’s heart or insight into her husband’s.

King told his wife of this mistress in 1968 as she was recovering from surgery. “He disclosed to her the one mistress who meant most to him since 1963,” writes award-winning cicil rights historian Taylor Branch.

Yet King spoke of his wife in venerated terms:

“My wife was always stronger than I was through the struggle. In the darkest moments, she always brought the light of hope. I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.”

From my paradigm, I always prefer to see these people as perfect. But maybe it’s their brokenness that opens a door to a more perfect 20/20 vision. Maybe it’s classic codependency; they feel they can’t fix themselves so they aim their healing powers at those around them instead.

There’s an endless line of people waiting to destroy our prophets.

Jesus’ own followers were a rag tag group of misfits but still they carried the message forth, before and after the crowds yelled, “Crucify him!”

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover

It seems the song never changes, we just add a new verse.

Our search for a flawless leader will leave us empty and disappointed. No one will be worthy, but we all likely agree that there’s no need to mythologize Dr. King as a man. In doing so we get side tracked from his message.

What I admire most is he didn’t stand and preach it from the mountain top…he came down and got dirty in the street.

Still I have to ask; if we use the words from King’s most memorable speech where he beseeches us to judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, what do we do with Dr. King?

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36 Responses to Paul Wilson: Martin Luther King, the Adultery of a Man and His Message

  1. rkcal says:

    The same thing we do with those glorified white guys that proclaimed all men were created equal while owning some; recognize the righteousness and truth of the message and keep chopping wood.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      rkcal, in researching what I wanted to do with this story, I almost included Thomas Jefferson but I wanted to keep it under 900 words with the hope Libertarian might read it!
      Our constitutional framer, as most know, occasionally bedded his favorite slave as a side love interest. At the time, a long ways from acceptable by any one, for any reason. The product of that was either one or two children. I’ve not found definitive proof on the exact number, point being, upon birth and maturity, his own child was turned out to the fields as additional slave labor. No special privileges there, not even if your lineage is of the head of the house!
      Pretty amazing stuff…

      • hot harley says:

        mr Wilson..i have a saying that might fit most of us
        on this site (including yourself well coiffed salesguy) when it comes to content of character….
        people in glass houses should not throw stones!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        kabish (spelled right?)….

      • Libertarian says:

        I read somwhere in my vast past that ol’ TJ loved to fondle his chambermaid’s breasts as she dressed him.

        He cant be all bad, now can he?

  2. Stomper says:

    Nice twofer Paul. A respectful nod to MLK on the anniversary of his assassination while also making an important point that while we are all sinners, we can still strive to make the world a better place and not let the failings of those that do, detract from their efforts.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Thanks, Stomper. I’m trying to move closer to the dark side… over where your thought processes come from. Makes a lot more sense to me. Always good to hear from you.

  3. Paracelsus says:

    The Hoover FBI era is a national shame, particularly during the civil rights era. Power-mad, paranoid, half-pint Beria with different enthusiasms. The anonymous letter sent by the FBI to Dr. King suggesting he commit suicide was one of the more awful moments, and it’s not an outlier by any means.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Paracelsus, I tend to go easier on J Edgar than you, mainly because he looked so smokin HOT in a dress! (Can you imagine that ugly mug, cross dressin on a Friday night?)
      Maybe I ought to dig into that one sometime soon!

      • Libertarian says:

        J. Edgar had a face that would make an onion cry.

        I dont think being bi would even double his chance for a date on Fridays.

  4. hot harley says:

    wtf do we do?…we understand that we’re all faulty individuals.
    and why do you always use martin luther king as an example. I think you’ve
    done a number of mentions of this man.
    why not a story about Donald Rumsfeld and the 5000unneccesary American deaths
    and 300,000 injured vets…the one million dead in Iraq and Afghanistan…
    was this guy a cheater on his wife…we don’t know…don’t care…just knew
    he was a filthy f******ing liar. 2 trillion dollars….billions stolen…why not a
    story there about his faults and his lies … what about his content of charactor
    or how about his personal faults?????????????????????
    adultery? come on Wilson..what about gov. Sanford…just elected to
    congress….he’s getting pAid by the taxpayers…cheated on his wife yet
    reelected in his state to a national post…he cheated…yet no stories.
    sure…all those leaders had their faults… theyre human…but they were able
    separate their personal from their professional or public lives.
    why mlk all the time? he wasn’t paid by the government…I don’t think
    he casued the death of anyone…he preached nonviolence…but again
    with you wislon…its mlk!!!!!!
    how do we separate their personal and professional or public lives.
    the same way you do…or did. If you’re an angel…then you’re one of the few.
    mlk never received a dime as a public servant…ran for no office…never
    set a budget of taxpayers money…never lied and brought a nation to it’s
    knees…never sent 500,000 kids to fight a war that was a lie….never watched
    the caskets come back from Iraq at dover…..all to show us that we can
    be better…if not within ourselves 100%of the time…then as humans most of
    the time.
    MLK. got voting rights…fair pay….education opportunities…brought down
    discrimination….without lying. Read your history books Wilson….
    see what the man did….saved lives….fought to end the Vietnam war and
    save the useless slaughter of our kids… friends and foes……..and so he had
    an affair (which we really don’t know occurred or what occurred)…
    but with all he did that was saintly…he had flaws.
    If you think humans are perfect…you’re wrong. You picked the wrong
    man to try to prove your point. We are all broken souls at sometime in
    our lives.
    what do we do with a man lik mlk who said judge a man by the
    content of his character….the same thing you edo everyday Wilson.
    Understand we’re all flawed but that will never stop great men from
    doing great things…not for himself ….but for others.
    Please…this entire article is another joke. His message was pretty
    simple….we’re all equal…but we’re all also flawed….there is no
    perfection in life.
    And now everything he worked and died for is being rolled back.
    The hate..the vile language…the racism….its all coming back because
    we’ve lost what made us great!!!!!!!!!!! sure he is human…and even your
    god says theres second chances and redemption….he was put here to
    change our thinking and our action….he wasn’t put here to be an
    example of a model citizen or husband….he was put here to bring
    freedom and equality to those who never had it.
    I suggest you travel to the south today..not much has changed…
    still poverty…poor schools….racism (heard the “n” word used in
    a restaurant in baton rouge and no one flinched!!!!)….
    poor health…high infant mortality….they mooch off the fed more than
    they pay in….and its not justthe blacks…its the whites also!!!!!!!!
    love to see an article about Rumsfeld and how you judge this
    disgusting liar in comparison with mlk when it comes to character
    and dignity. Maybe you need to usebetter subjects for your misleading
    and mistaken stories.
    Or maybe you need to read the “good book” again…because that’s where
    you’ll find the answers to your questions!

    • chuck says:

      Harley, did you read Paul’s article at all?

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Harlis, you just wear the ever loving shit out of me. First I have to wade through the train wreck of a zig zag response only to find out I’m rewarded by seeing, based on your comment, you clearly did read the story!
      In the future, if you’re going to force a comment upon me, please make sure it fits the story. Otherwise, you fit in the cruel and unusual punishment department.

  5. Craig Glazer says:

    It’s kinda like this, ‘behind every fortune there is a crime’ and usually that’s true. Almost all ‘great men’ have more dark corners than we want to hear about, surely King and Kennedy. They are just human. It doesn’t take away from the good they did or at least stood for at the time.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      CG, that was my point. I USED to look for total perfection in these people, they are our leaders. But in the end, they are more like us than we are!
      I guess the purpose was more to expose my shortcomings, my own judgemental attitude and how thats getting tempered the older I get. A lot of things look different than they used to.
      Heard you ran into Pauly F’rocks the other day, we should go get a drink!

  6. Rainbow Man says:

    At first, I was not impressed with the idea of a King adultery piece on the anniversary of his death… But.. you recovered well in the article. Good work. Maybe King’s shortcomings humbled and haunted him… as well as Kennedy, Bush etc.

  7. Rico_suave says:

    “King’s most memorable speech where he beseeches us to judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, ..”

    we can all agree with that ..but.. unfortunately for America.. the Democrats pushed “Affirmative Action” ..

    which judges a man SOLELY by the color of his skin.. and resulted in affluent “minorities” receiving preferences over working-class Whites.

  8. chuck says:

    How to we separate the men from their messages? And do we need to?”

    The American abilty for self deception is selective with regards to man and message.

    The sexual peccadilloes of prominent players on the American stage, are, in my opinion superfluous. “Who’s Zoomin Who” should stay in the back seat while we look with jaundiced eyes at the destruction, death and detrirus left in the wake of the heretofore supposed prescience of our former leaders. The morals and ethics of the message, or, their accomplishments are what counts.

    After 9/11 George Bush and his team, convinced America of imminent war by way of WMDs in Iraq. I believed him as did Democrats and Republicans in power. The subsequent adventure in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 5,000 Americans (Not counting the 50,000 wounded processed through Walter Reed.) died in order to achieve the Ayatollah Khomeni’s dream of Shia hegemony throughout the Mideast with Iran as the theocratic catalyst, cannot be underestimated in assessing historical international blunders. This turn of events, in a decade, executed and brought to fruition by our own military at great cost may be the most damaging and astonishing American political in our lifetimes. The cost of this mistake is impossible to assess. We should remember the man and the message as one in the same. Both catastrophic. Both well documented repetitively in the 4th estate and the entertainment industry.

    MLK’s well documented dalliances are fodder for conservative hit peices, which, demean and reflect poorly on conservatives as a whole. Those trysts are red herrings that distract Americans from the message. MLK’s lifes work and his messge, Civil Rights and Civil Rights legislation.

    We are 50 years and 2 to 3 generations into a movement based on what we must as reasonable people, imagine are transgenerational unrightable wrongs that no know scenesence. Middle class, economic arms and legs, ripped from their bodies, are no more than floatation devices for the Grievance Industry’s rogues and mountbanks who have no need to swim. Those now heuristically aware of reality who speak against the message, or the “Narrative” are guilty of apostacy and treated in accord with their ignominious status. Deception is part and parcel of the “Narrative” which, in the face of the unambiguated failure of MLK’s message at this late date, drives us further and further down the river towards the noise of a waterfall. We deceive ourselves at the metion of a low level infatada of black on white crime. We deceive ourselves to the disticnt lack of acceleration in the African American community in spite of trillions of dollars spent to “Even the Playing Field.” We deceive ourselves and pretend that African Americans are not teathered to mediocrity by Affirmative Action legislation, that, after 50 years dilineates by it’s very existance the presupposition of inferiority. Our preconceived affectation to a commitment based on a “Marching with Martin” trope, romanticized through the years, the decades has left African Americans stranded on that flotation device with the rest of us, unable to stop the self deception as we get closer to the falls.

    King’s message was and is far more important than the conversation concerning his personal life. His message was equal opportunity, not the parasitical nature of race relations as they exist, based on guilt, stemming from a malevolent bedrock of hate and justified by ethnomasochistic ignorance.

  9. Orphan of the Road says:

    If you look back on the Bible, it was decades after Jesus’ life when the New Testament was put together. Men who had never heard his voice or lived in his times made those decisions. And they left out many books which did not fit their vision.

    Read The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and you get a different picture of Jesus. He was a bratty kid.

    Dr. King knew the deal was down and dirty. And yet he did not retreat nor step back in his rhetoric. And he was like so many men, thinking with his little head too much.

    Writing of Gandhi and King, Kris Kristoferson wrote,

    He knew the deal was down and dirty
    And nothing wrong could make it right away

    But he knew his duty, and the price he had to pay
    Just another holy man who tried to make a stand
    My god, they killed him !

    Throughout history there have been those who have helped the poor and the sick. Through charity and good deeds, they made a name for themselves. Often as offerings for the violent and ruthless ways they made their fortunes.

    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus – Jackson Browne

  10. Harry Balczak says:

    Just because MLK may have not been faithful in his marriage doesn’t mean he didn’t do what he did for civil rights. What people do in their private lives does not impact what they do publicly. Plus why the MLK article now, you are about 2 1/2 months late?

    • chuck says:

      With all respect Harry, I think that Paul is agreeing with you for the most part and his article coincides with the anniversary of MLK’s death, so that goes to timing.

      🙂

      It really is an excellent article on our leaders, annointed and self appointed et al whose human condition is no different than ours.

      • paulwilsonkc says:

        Thanks, Chuck, you clearly invested the time to…….READ IT!
        Is it a full moon?
        Two months too late!
        I should punch Harry in his Balczak!

    • hot harley says:

      wislon is always late…and always wrong as we see in this article
      and ones about the jewel theif/Columbia rape and jardines (the long
      story of wislon trying to make himself out to be Donald trump
      of kc!!!!!)…..
      what would you expect?
      zzzzzzzzzzzzz…more boring words just to fillus space.

      • paulwilsonkc says:

        Harley, read everyone else’s comment about your lack of grasp on the content. Then…..if you don’t get help at Charter, please get help somewhere….
        Yeesus, you wear me out.

  11. Libertarian says:

    Nice piece, Paul. thanks for calling me out.

    My father, as well as my step-dad, were drunken, abusive, and unfaithful.

    I pretty much grew up feeling disgusted with them both for the way they treated my mom. Evidently it did the same to my mom, for she never sought the company of another after the step-asshole split. As for me, to this day I have never been abusive or unfaithful to a woman, and I lose a great deal of respect for those that are.

    For all the social good King did, to refer to him as a Reverend will always be a stretch for me. Same goes for anyone else bearing that title that cant live up to it.

    Some folks seem to think screwing around is just human nature, but I seem to think a man that cant be faithful, also cant be trusted. (King would be proud of me for judging by character, right?)

    To top it all off, infidelity is a 1-way street. You might be forgiven, but things will never be the same. Never.

    A professional summarizer would probably say something like this:
    “You cant un-f_ _k someone.”

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Well stated, as usual, Lib. Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your take, pro or con.

  12. Kathy R. says:

    MLK was human. An incredible one. Not one person can judge the fear, stress, loniless, pressure, responsibilities, ad infinitum.

    As a human he may have slaughter comfort.

    As a human, I dare say, he’s in the top of humankind for his accomplishments.

    Whom else could have said,”I have a dream.”

    LIKE THAT.

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