Dr. King spoke out against the genocide of Native Americans


Despite the yearly celebrations of Martin Luther King Day and African American History Month, it is probably little known what the great freedom fighter had to say about the horrific mistreatment of Native Americans by the U.S. In his 1963 book, "Why We Can't Wait," writing about the origins of racism in this country, King strongly condemned the historic injustices inflicted on Native people. He wrote the following:

"Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it."  

Woefully, Dr. King's words still ring true to this very day in so many respects. But King's poignant words on the tragic history of Native Americans are largely unknown in mainstream society.

Although King played the leading role on the cutting edge of the African American liberation struggle for social justice and equality, he was a fighter for all of the oppressed of this land. His birthday holiday this year brought to mind a story I was told years ago of how he assisted Native people in south Alabama in the late 1950s.

At that time the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were trying to completely desegregate schools in their area. The South has so many seemingly outlandish racial problems: In this case, light-complected Native children were allowed to ride school buses to previously all white schools, while dark-skinned Indian children from the same band were barred from riding the same buses.

Tribal leaders, upon hearing of King's desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Ala., contacted him for assistance. He promptly responded and through his intervention the problem was quickly resolved.          

Also, little known is that in the 1963 March on Washington there was a sizable Native American contingent, including many from South Dakota. Moreover, the civil rights movement inspired the Native American rights movement of the 1960s and many of its leaders. In fact, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) was patterned after the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Re-reading Dr. King's words I had to harken back in history to the fact that according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, by 1900 there were only 237,196 Native Americans left in the entire country - this from an original population that numbered in the tens of millions. In the words of one historian the outright massacres had ceased by then, simply "because there were just not that many Indians left to kill." King rightly concluded that the genocide of American Indians was "national policy." Indeed, on many reservations the story still circulates that as late as the 1890s a debate was held by the U.S. Congress to consider the outright military extermination of all remaining Native Americans. According to these accounts the only reason this nefarious plan was not carried out was because it would be too expensive.

But fast forwarding to the 21st century it must be seen that both the civil rights movement and the Native American rights movement have had a major impact on the U.S. and the world at large. Dr. King played an immeasurable role in these movements that roiled the status quo and marked a new stage of struggles that are ongoing to this day.

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. Wikimedia Commons

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  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a very brave man and a true man. He is the more famous but I also feel the most outspoken minister who was honest and spoke to the people about the current issues that mattered most and resonated with the people. He spoke well for his people and addressed the issues effecting the poor. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an honorable and dignified human being. I have not read extensively Dr.Kings writings but without doubt he was one of the most outspoken and conscientious individuals in American society and within the spiritual/religious community, which to me seems pretty rare. I feel that Dr. King did care about morality, truth and dignity which had to irritate the government; it is a delight that a person with such passion and commitment stood with so many to advocate for a better quality of life and equality. Dr. King gave selflessly to the cause of ending segregation, inequality and proposed programs to uplift the poor, such as job training and public housing . He showed everyone his conviction, even the bigoted hillbilly. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most outstanding human beings of U.S. history and social change. I am grateful Dr. King lived and for his life work for equality and justice. I feel Dr. King was one of the bravest, passionate and honest persons to grace these United States to bring about positive social change. I often get so disgusted of how crass the United States can be, but thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he makes me glow and feel proud to have been a part of his life and dream. His life and legacy simply is one of the most important honorary figures that helped change and shape history like no other has. I honor Dr. King and I am thankful for Mrs Correta Scott King, two very beautiful people who graced America and brought a more beautiful America into focus while leaving the ugly past behind.

    Posted by Gypsy Lake, 01/18/2016 9:17pm (22 days ago)

  • He was an amazing man who did way more than anybody knew. He was a champion for all people being treated with dignity and respect. He was a spokesman for truth and oneness. Thanks for sharing this Lily

    Posted by Linda Eisenhauer, 01/18/2016 7:22pm (22 days ago)

  • MLK. Your words on Native American genocide will resonate in my mind forever, you have spoken truthfully and we your Northern Canadian border still fight the battles of segregation and driving the wedge of Canadian Government's Indian Act has divided our own people. We shall over come. Yes, we will, MLK. Yes we will. I am Sa-on, the Wetsuweten.

    Posted by Sa-on, George Williams, 07/13/2015 12:58pm (7 months ago)

  • We should change thanksgiving day into we're sorry our ancestors were the real savages day.

    Posted by Sandy Theriault, 07/12/2015 1:36pm (7 months ago)

  • Scientific American had an article some years back on what the effect on climate was that resulted from 80% of Native people diing of European diseases. Seems that there was a marked cooling as cultivated land turned into brush land and lowered CO2 in our atmosphere.

    That exact number from 1900 seems a bit questionable. But the reality was horrendous. Custer was herding women and chdren into the brush, likely to kill them, when he got word that Reno was in trouble at the Little Big Horn.

    Posted by Joseph Sompolinsky, 02/26/2015 8:25pm (12 months ago)

  • Here is the irony of it all. For decades,African American people strived to be a part of the so called "American Dream"and it was denied them. Native Americans,who only really wanted to be left alone,wante not part of the white mans so called civilization,and he had it rammed down his throat.After the genocide (physical) ended. The United States then tried cultural genocide.

    Children were kidnapped and sent to government Indian schools,wher they were beaten and otherwise abused,if caught speaking in their native tongue.Native religious practices were outlawed. Until 1923 when we were finally "granted" citizenship onour own country,we were considered a hostile "foreign" power. Geronimo,died as a prisoner of war,long after the Indian wars had ended.

    In the 1950's and early 1960's there was the termination policy. An attempt by the government to liquidate Reservations as a way to steal wht little land we had left. That ended with President Kennedy.

    Even today,attempts are made by bif business to steal Indian lands for the exploitation of natural resources,without regard for the inhabitants.

    Native Americans,the smallest and most "minor' of the nations minorities are still treated like second class citizens.

    Posted by Jake Eagleshield, 10/26/2014 4:48pm (1 year ago)

  • I was happy to come across your article Albert while doing research on American Indian Civil Rights. By uncovering the inner workings of CMS I discovered that the design of the fee-for-service ("OPEN CARD") program and the way CMS implements it does discriminate against American Indians. Please visit my site for a better explanation. I would like to put a link on my page to your site with your permission if I may? I would be most interested in learning more about the plight of my people in South Dakota. Thank you.


    Posted by Rory Jackson, 03/26/2014 1:31am (2 years ago)

  • I was happy to come across your article while doing research on American Indians and how they are faring under ACA. We still have to fight to get treated as UNITED STATES CITIZENS! Please visit my web site for information on a Civil Rights Violation I filed against the State of Oregon. If nobody knows the answer, then who are we to complain to? I would like to put a link on my site to yours if I have your permission? Thank you for the informative articles and discussions.


    Posted by Rory Jackson, 03/25/2014 7:54pm (2 years ago)

  • Thank you Albert Bender.
    Virtually everything about this great country can be attributed to the great Native American Indian peoples.
    The new nation never would have been, if not for the generosity of the Native American. The Pilgrims would not have survived, the life styles, the hunting, trapping, trade in goods-American unique culture could not have come into being.
    The names of places: rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, and would make no reason, no rhyme, no people. There would be no US.
    No survival.
    No wisdom.
    No American world.
    No Lewis, No Clark not even the great York.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 02/18/2014 6:01pm (2 years ago)

  • I hadn't read this before and found it very interesting. I wonder how many people know these facts?

    Posted by Mary L Pearson, 02/17/2014 5:07pm (2 years ago)

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