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January 20 2014

The Dr. King That We Never Knew, and His Second Act


On January 20th, 2014, the world celebrates a man it only partly knew.

What if I told you that Dr. King was an unheralded economic prophet, and a co-founder of America's third revolution? 

We know his famous speech, I Have A Dream, and we know his legislative successes tied to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We know some of his books, writings such as the Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and his most famous marches and movement actions. We know his active relationship with two U.S. Presidents. We know his moral authority, and his inspirational leadership. 

And then most of us make a critical mistake, when we begin to talk further about this great man. 


Our first mistake is when we call him a Black Leader, or maybe more generously, the leader for Black America. The fact of the matter is, he actually was not either. 

King was not a Black leader, but a great leader who happened to be Black. On his larger work, King was even more radically inclusive. In Dr. King's own words he said, "the civil rights movement was about redeeming the soul of America, from the triple evils of war, racism and poverty." Or when he went further and said "the movement was about saving Black men's bodies and White men's soul." In other words, we are all in this together.

Dr. King was one of the few (Black) leaders at the time who was talking to white America, not (principally) Black America. Of course, Black America already knew what King was about, and Black America already knew what their own agenda needed to be. 

TIME Magazine had it right when they placed Dr. King on its August 26th, 2013 cover, proclaiming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be an American 'Founding Father,' and 'the Architect of the 21st Century.'

Interestingly enough, an architect for a century that he would never live to see himself. To quote my friend and Dr. King's daughter, Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of the King Center,"it is quite a leader who mentors people even in death." Quite a leader indeed. 

But there are still critical things either we don't know, or don't completely understand. Important things. 

Like the 1968 Civil Rights Act. Yes, 1968. Almost no one connects this landmark legislation to King. The 1968 Civil Rights Act is commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act, by those who know it, passed six days following the assassination of Dr. King. It was meant to pay tribute to King's last movement work; economic justice and poverty eradication. Specifically, the time spent by King in Chicago, his only northern city campaign, fighting for fair and decent housing in the years before his death, from 1965-1967. 

Or the fact that the 1963 assembly on the Mall in Washington, DC, where he gave his historic I Have A Dream speech, was actually billed as a March for Jobs and Freedom. JOBS, and Freedom. Jobs!

Or the fact that Dr. King's chief aid, my personal hero and mentor Ambassador Andrew Young, was sent into southern towns by Dr. King to meet with business leaders, in each town where movement leaders marched. Business leaders

Dr. King figured that if 100 prominent business leaders in any southern town agreed to anything, that local political leadership would go along for the ride. Remember, most of the customers in those small southern towns at the time were African-American. The strategy worked. You can recall now what got integrated in the South first -- private businesses and commercial enterprises, not government offices or public institutions. 

Finally, inspired by Marian Wright Edelman (founder of the Children's Defense Fund), Dr. King converged on the third symphony of his movement work -- his Poor People's Campaign. Poverty eradication. An assassination's bullet ended this last noble campaign for economic justice. 

And here is something very powerful. The man who co-pastored Dr. King's church in Atlanta, the historic Ebenezer Church, was himself both a pastor and a successful businessman. I am referring to none other than Dr. King's father, Martin Luther King, Sr., more commonly referred to as Daddy King. King the father also served on the board of a bank for 40 years, and no one seems to know that either. 

Dr. King could work in the movement effectively for free, in part because of the business success of Daddy King. It wasn't a movement of civil rights justice or silver rights empowerment, it was both. 

Today, the organization I founded, Operation HOPE, operates HOPE Inside Ebenezer as the anchor for the new Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resource Complex, located directly across from the final resting place for Dr. King, and in honor of Daddy King, the people's capitalist. 

Today we are creating new minority home owners and small business owners, and raising credit scores an average of 120 points over 18 months, in the spiritual home that King built. As I have often said, "nothing changes your life more, than love or God, than moving your credit score 120 points." 

Going forward, we plan to humbly continue the unfinished poverty eradication work of Dr. King, and we call it Project 5117. The bold effort spanning through year 2020 is co-chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Bernice A. King and myself. The work, continues. The dream lives. 

Our first Revolution was our independence from Britain of 1775.

Our second revolution was our Civil War of 1861, and Dr. King and a diverse band of brothers (and sisters) led our final, third American revolution of and for our collective Civil Rights, in the 1960's. 

The civil rights movement was not a Black movement, nor was it just about Black people. The Civil Rights movement was a movement of America, by America, for America

It made America better, and it continues to inspire real leaders the world over today. 

Dr. King lives today beyond race. Beyond time. Beyond the span of his life itself.

Today, he is idea. An idea whose time has come for a new generation of leaders. 

Let's go. 

John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and is the only 2010-2012 bestselling business author in America who is also African-American. His newest book, due out May, 2014, is HOW THE POOR CAN SAVE CAPITALISM, and will be published by Berrett Koehler Publishing.

Photo Courtesy:AP