Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

tn_MLKToday in the U.S. we celebrate a national holiday for our great hero of the civil rights movement and pacifism, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, like most holidays, only about a third of employers give their workers a day off, so (ironically considering Dr. King’s activism) the working poor get kinda screwed.

Still, I like that there’s a holiday, and in its honor I want to present to you a couple clips related to the holiday’s greatest contributions to pop culture.

First up is Stevie Wonder’s song “Happy Birthday,” from the album Hotter In July. In 1980, after the holiday was first proposed by labor unions and then debated by politicians, Stevie recorded this to popularize the movement. Since then he seems willing to use it as a generic birthday song, but originally it was a plea to create “a holiday where peace is celebrated all throughout the world.”

Here’s a nice live performance of it:

In the song Stevie is befuddled by “anyone who takes offense” at the holiday, but of course for years after President Reagan signed it into law (because “”Congress seemed bent on making it a national holiday”) some of the usual white assholes in power had the balls to push back against it. 2004 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain infamously voted against it, although he had reversed his position by the early ’90s, when Arizona was getting alot of shit on the national level for still not honoring the holiday. In 1990 it was actually put to a vote, and Arizonans rejected it by 76%! This was not that long ago. Even the NFL wondered what in fuck’s name was wrong with those people, and pulled the Super Bowl out of Arizona.

In 1991, armed only with a large clock and a badass sample from Mandrill’s “Two Sisters of Mystery,” Public Enemy launched a musical attack on Arizona. Even though it only played on MTV one time, the video (by HOUSE PARTY 3 director Eric Meza) created controversy not for being pro-MLK holiday but, more understandably, for blatantly going against Dr. King’s peaceful philosophy by depicting Chuck D assassinating the governor of Arizona.

In an interview with Spin a couple months ago Chuck had no regrets about the video: “Dr. King didn’t make the video. Dr. King died a violent death and I was answering that. As a child, I was pissed off that they killed Dr. King and I was answering that. Regardless of what Dr. King believed, the act of his life being taken was not a passive thing. So I don’t feel any contradiction to this moment. Look, I’m for peace, but I can make a visual statement about how I feel about what happened. The actuality is that I shot a video in rebuttal to something that happened in real life.”

Still, it was a good song and the video was an effective expression of anger and disgust:

Also controversial was “Return of the King,” the MLK Day episode of The Boondocks. This under-recognized gem of ballsy cultural satire imagines what would happen if Dr. King hadn’t died when he was shot, but just went into a coma, and woke up in the modern world. The resurrected Dr. King not only has to deal with being demonized on Fox News, but with seeing a future that doesn’t entirely resemble the one he famously dreamed about. Obviously Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder is making alot of criticisms of his own community, so it’s kind of iffy for me as a white person to agree with it, but I think this is a more on target attack on the type of degrading media images that Spike Lee went after in BAMBOOZLED. And it alternates between funny and sad, like in this scene where Dr. King gets his first taste of BET:

I’m gonna go slightly off the connected-to-the-holiday theme to end on a positive note and I can’t find a trailer for the cable movie BOYCOTT, where Jeffrey Wright played Dr. King. Instead I present to you Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” a great, soulful anthem written the year after the March on Washington. This NPR story explains some of the song’s connection to Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Here’s a white lady singing it:

Nah, just kidding. Nothing against Dusty. But here’s the version Curtis did with the Impressions:


There’s also a great Staples Singers version (did I hear a De La Soul sample in there?), and a Chambers Brothers one, and Alicia Keys sings it. And holy shit, I think I need to embed this Al Green version:

Anyway, I hope that you have enjoyed some of these selections, and if not I will turn the other cheek so you can slap that one too, as long as you are in the business of slapping me in the face for just sharing some nice stuff with you. Thanks alot.

Happy birthday everybody.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 16th, 2012 at 12:00 am and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day”

  1. Sharing the voice of Reverend Al Green is always a good idea.

    Happy America, world.


  2. When you read up the history of MLK Day, fascinating how pretty much the movement went over the hump when corporations (especially Coca-Cola) got fully behind it back in the 80s. Of course Coke might be expected since its Atlanta, but there were others too.

    So if Apple and Virgin Airways get behind Harvey Milk Day, you know which playbook they’re working.

    Anyway, props to Stevie Wonder. I’ll always pick you over Ray Charles in the Battle-of-the-blind-badass-R&B-giants, even though Ray was awesome in BLUES BROTHERS, if only because he did more music (specifically albums) that I liked much more*. I guess the DIE HARD reference helps butter up your resume in this election.

    Oh and of course, Jay Z totally ripped off recording-newborn-daughter-for-song from you like a shameless mother fucker and not giving any credit.

    *=But “Ebony & Ivory” was awful, Steve. That other track you did with Paul McCartney for his album, “What’s That You’re Doing?,” now that was a solid fun funk gem that for whatever reason didn’t land on a record of yours.


  3. Is there a Lincoln’s birthday day? If there is, does anyone care about it?

  4. Thanks Vern,

    unfortunally in Germany you can’t watch half of the videos because of the fucking GEMA. Its an agency that handles the rights of a lot of artists in germany and for years they cannot find an agreement with youtube for streaming. Its so pathetic.

  5. I just realized, that we don’t have any holidays, based on the Birthdays of famous persons of this country’s history. I guess that’s another nice thing that we can’t have because of Hitler.

    Also as a way, way, way more cheesy and exploitative addition to your videos, I present you this European smash hit from 1996.:


  6. Atzfratz: I recommend you a browser plugin named ProxTube, to solve this problem. I think it’s available for Firefox and Chrome and works seriously good and quick. (Embedded videos are only viewable on the YouTube page, though.)

  7. CJ – Well to be fair, who would get birthday national holidays? Kaiser Wilhelm? Martin Luther? Fritz Lang? Sorry but I’m coming up blank.

    Maybe 1/27, have Willy Brandt Day where people honor both spying on your boss, and your friends backstabbing you.

    Wait I got the two perfect candidates: Werner Herzog and Jurgen Prochnow. Both holidays celebrate kicking ass, with the first for the insane(ly awesome) to party for their own.

    Oh and I forever count my blessings that in pop-bastardizing-MLK, I really thought you were going to link U2. We dodged a shameless schmaltz bullet there.

  8. RRA- what about Beethoven?

    anyway in celebration here’s a video with some scientific evidence showing racism is bullshit


  9. This is why I love this site. Only here would I ever see suggestions for a Jurgen Prochnow or Fritz Lang day. As this day has reached us yet again I wonder what’s taken so long for the inevitable KING biopic to be made by hollywood for release during black history month. I guess there must be some rights issues or something.

  10. Peabody – There is a Lincoln birthday. It’s not observed by everybody but I don’t get to work that day and it also gives me an excuse to wear a stovepipe hat without looking foolish.

  11. CJ – Thanks, ill give it a try.

  12. it’s a shame that i didn’t know about arizona and john mccain until this post. it’s not something they talk about in u.s. schools. and having to learn about it on a movie review website…

    but it just goes to show that outlawvern.com is more than just about movies.

  13. Peabody- http://youtu.be/EX0dDyP5HOc
    Happy MLK day everyone. Obviously we don’t observe it as a holiday over here, though I’m surprised there’s not any documentaries about it on tv today. Oh well, maybe we’ll get an MLK DOCTOR WHO episode one day.

  14. Oh come on, no Klaus Kinski day? Also Beethoven was Austrian, but I guess all German speaking white people are the same to you racists.

  15. I seem to remember that the Cigarette Guy on THE X-FILES had so much respect for King that he insisted on performing the assassination himself. No one ever accused THE X-FILES of being subtle.

  16. CJ – no he was not, he was born in Bonn. He lived in Wien since the age of 22 but a big reason for that was that the french conquered his homeland in his absence.

  17. With “you racists” I meant me, obviously. ;)

  18. Of all people, Ron Paul brings up MLK in trashing the Drug War.

    I probably never thought I would hear “Rich white people don’t get the death penalty very often” at a GOP debate.

  19. Yeah, but Ron Paul is against the Civil Rights Act. He says he’s against racism but he doesn’t want to do anything to stop deeply entrenched racism. It’s pretty disgusting!

  20. Casey – I know. Weird aint it?

  21. I’m a little disappointed no one seems to have anything to say about the Bill Nye the science guy video I posted

    it’s a pretty fascinating rebuttal of the pseudoscience ideas of black people being “less evolved” and white people being the “master race” you see spouted by shitheads on the internet

  22. CJ:

    When I landed in Munich and started my tour of Austria on our Mercedes Benz bus (quite the novelty to an American, a Mercedes Benz bus), our German bus driver spent hours doing nothing but making fun of Austrian people, calling them “potato people.” Apparently to him Germans were the forward looking industrialized ubermensch and Austrians were backwards rural agricultural yokels.

    So the only racism I’ve ever experienced about different German speaking peoples was that of German speaking people on German speaking people.

    Anyway, thank you church in Graz for letting me play your centuries old pipe organ, the ossuary around Bruckner’s tomb in Linz is quite impressive, and I liked eating Mozart’s balls (you’d have to go to Salzburg to understand).

  23. Griff – I apologize mate, I didn’t realize it was my homey, Bill Nye. I didn’t bother because…well, I’m not a racist. Or stupid. I know the pseudo-science used to divide the supposed IQ of races is retarded and intelligently-insulting. I know those idiots are full of it.

    Anyway I apologize mate. I like this video so far that I’ve seen. I know kids my age back in the day watched fucking BEAKMAN, but I prefered Nye if only because he actually seemed like he was the real legit nerdy badass who could probably go Seagal on you if you claim Evolution is false.

    (“I cook too.”)

  24. nabroleon dynamite

    January 16th, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    And let’s not forget that Ron Paul didn’t vote for the King holiday either!!

    But of course that had nothing to do with his Ron Paul newsletter stating that Martin Luther King day should be better known as “Hate Whitey Day”

    Nope, not at all. Just a terrible coincidence…

  25. Gotta love that the GOP and South Carolina celebrate MLK day by having a bunch of racist yahoos cheer on a bunch of racist assholes at what was the most dog-whistle-filled debate of the entire GOP race. And that’s saying a lot in a race that brought out booing at a gay soldier

  26. And Bill Nye was the shit on “Almost Live.” I miss that show.

  27. I promise, not all us South Carolinians are bigoted buffoons.

    {cowers in shame}

  28. BR: But…your bus driver was right! (No, just kidding of course.)
    Man, I really want to go to Austria again. It’s been more than 20 years since the last time.

  29. Bet you can’t wait to throw another shrimp on the barbie and yell g’day mate, huh?

  30. I just want to clarify some of the misinformation about Dr. Paul here in the comments. First thing you need to understand is the guy is a strict constitutionalist. That means he makes his decisions based on what’s already been laid out in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. His own personal leanings come second to upholding the doctrines of the country. It’s a very sacred vow for him. What’s nice about this is how much it differs from other politicians, who kind of just base all their decisions on whatever they “feel” is right. But this is wildly inconsistent and a slippery slope. What feels right one day may in fact be incredibly wrong. Like the Patriot Act. In the wake of national fear and anger inspired by 9/11, signing the Patriot Act obviously “felt” right to a whole lot of people. But was it Constitutional? Nope. And only Dr. Paul voted against it. One damn guy.

    The second great thing about treating this vow as sacredly as he does is it means the guy is incorruptible. I know Obama is a great speaker and for sure, I fell for his whole HOPE thing back in 2008, but take a look at who his top campaign contributors are. Google it. He’s owned by the same special interests, lobbyists, and corporations as everyone else. Even right now everyone in the media is hyping an Obama/Romney showdown, but their top campaign contributor is exactly the same! It’s Goldman-Sachs. And all the others after that are the same too. Just go down the list. Ron Paul, in comparison, takes no money from lobbyists, no money from the banks, and no money from the corporations. They don’t even bother to knock on his door. Why every American isn’t going totally bonkers over this and cheering the dude’s name to the Heavens right now has me completely baffled.

    When people say Ron Paul voted against MLK day, that’s actually incorrect. There’s a pretty major smear/blackout campaign going on in the media right now, and a LOT of misinformation on Paul’s history and his positions is being tossed around. (I even saw a clip of one news reporter who claimed Paul wanted to execute homosexuals – like, say what dude??) Now, when the vote for MLK day was first initiated, there was a vote to SUSPEND the rules of congress in order to pass the bill. Paul voted no for that because he hates breaking the rules of congress (he takes them very seriously), but when the bill was put to vote in a more traditional manner, he voted yes. Here’s the link (scroll down to Texas):


    This bill was later amended (in 1983, I believe) to move the date of the holiday from King’s actual birthday to the third Monday in January. Ron Paul voted NO on this, true, but the reason isn’t because he was a racist, but because he didn’t want another federal holiday paid for on the taxpayers dime.

    And that’s the other thing you have to understand about Dr. Paul. He HATES spending taxpayer money unnecessarily. He always votes no on increasing taxes. He always votes against unbalanced budgets. He takes his own personal Congressional pension and feeds it back to the government in an attempt to reduce the debt. Unlike a lot of people – including me, until I started learning about the guy – Ron Paul understands that governments actually have NO money. They only acquire money by printing it out of thin air (which is unconstitutional, and devalues the currency), by borrowing it from other countries (like China, who basically owns America today), or by collecting it through taxes. So every time the government spends money, it’s taking that money from people who actually earned it in order to do… what, exactly? Basically whatever they feel like. War, maybe. Or giving it to their friends. Or maybe handing out a medal.

    Ron Paul Offers to Chip In $100 for Gold Medal to Rosa Parks

    In terms of civil rights, it’s important to understand Ron Paul’s principles in order to understand why he argues for the positions he does. Basically, he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to give the federal government the level of power they currently have, and always strives to bring that power back to the states and the individual. He also says it’s impossible to legislate morality, so all you can really do is defend personal liberty and property rights. That means if someone wants to open a business, that business is theirs and they can kinda set the rules for it, even if those rules are obnoxious. But the federal government shouldn’t get involved. The sensationalist example people always jump to is that if someone wanted to open a restaurant that didn’t serve black people, Ron Paul would support that, but it’s really more a question of putting his principles (and freedom) before his personal views. If someone wants to open a restaurant that doesn’t serve black people, or women, or men, or clowns, or people in hats (or, maybe more realistically, a restaurant that lets people smoke indoors), then it’s not the role of the federal government to say what people can and can’t do. You don’t have a right to hurt people, sure. You don’t have a right to steal or damage other people’s property, sure. But beyond that, America is kind of all about freedom. If you think of property rights, or economic rights, in the same way you think about free speech, this actually starts to make a lot of sense. People always say they don’t support something so-and-so says, but they support their right to say it. This is similar. You might not support a restaurant that allows indoor smoking, you might not give it your money and it might eventually go out of business, but you support its right to exist. Why should the government tell a business owner people can’t smoke inside his building? Where in the Constitution do they have that right? And where does this lead? What about a ladies-only gym? A gentleman’s club? A gay bar? Right now they’re fine, but in 50 years, 100 years, maybe they’ll all be considered horribly sexist and thus illegal. It’s worth thinking about the meaning of all this.

    Ron Paul: I Would Not Have Voted For The 1964 Civil Rights Act

    As for the newsletters, they’ve been debunked. The person that uncovered the newsletters intentionally omitted the author’s name for the purposes of political slander. Here’s two well-researched articles on the issue:

    1 Reality Check: The story behind the Ron Paul newsletters

    2 Reality Check: The name of a ‘Mystery Writer’ of one of Ron Paul’s ‘Racist’ newsletters

    Finally, a nice video on just how “racist” Dr. Paul really is:

    Busted! Ron Paul racist rant caught on tape! OMG! OMG!

  31. Apologies to Jared for this not posting before. I didn’t see it in the pending folder until today (too many links makes it think it’s spam).

    One correction though: There was more than “one damn guy” who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001. Paul was one of 66 who voted nay in Congress (including my congressman, Jim McDermott). In the Senate it was only Russ Feingold. Still an embarrassment, and good for him voting against it, but he wasn’t the lone voice of reason.

  32. Oops. Thanks for clearing that up Vern.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>