Baba Martin: Divine Love in Context

Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in a house, in Atlanta. He was born down the street from the church in which his father preached, the church in which he, too, would one day preach. He someday, somehow left Atlanta and came to Montgomery where he led a boycott sparked by old, tired Ms. Rosa Parks (who really wasn’t so old and tired); he marched on Washington and he dreamed, too; and he was killed, standing out on a balcony, in cold blood. This is the story of Baba Martin that most of us are familiar with, if even that much. These are the details of his life peddled by the powers he struggled against.

Baba Martin was a lover. He was a man deeply committed to a vision of cosmic love, of Divine love, that had the power to drive out evil, to drive out injustice, to drive out hate. Baba Martin was a man who operationalized that love not only by bringing a dream to the here-benevolent yet increasingly malevolent Texan in the White’s House — that alone could never be love — but also and more importantly by chilling out on the corner with the folks on 14th St and Park Rd NW in DC and street corners like it across the nation. It was that vision, that dream of love that led Baba Martin to his theory and practice of nonviolent struggle, founded both on the principle of a higher moral standard and on the strategic outlook that Black folk in amerikkka were not prepared to wage armed struggle against their oppressors. His was, is a dream of love that knew no color, knew no class, and knew no nation. His is a dream of love that led him to speak truth to power, if not without fear, then in spite of it.

Martin King himself served a God whom he considered the King of all Kings. His is a God who called on us all to “love your enemies.” And yet he continually disabused himself of any illusions he may have held about the nature of his and his people’s enemies. Following the bombing of the church on 16th Street that killed four girls — carried out by white supremacist terrorists, the descendants of whom now ship bigger bombs overseas to drop on older churches and make martyrs of people in Jesus’ homeland — he acknowledged that his dream was well turning into a nightmare. And in his final conversation with Harry Belafonte, Baba Martin declared his unease upon waking up from his dream-turned-nightmare, wiping the sleep from his eyes: “I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

I wonder what Baba Martin would make of amerikkka today. Seventy years into integration and his people still live in mire and filth and servitude, if we live at all. Seventy years in and Black men live in cages like a second home, and all we can do is blame them for it. Seventy years in and Black mothers die attempting to bring life, murdered by a profession founded on their torture. Seventy years in and all we can do is look to our captors for salvation, as we never forget to vote blue no matter…. Seventy years in and so much has changed, while too much has remained the same.

Baba Martin lived and worked during a time of change, of turning tides. The revolt that Afrikan people had waged for centuries against oppression and still waged with renewed fervor, coupled with the devastation Europe wrought against itself in the 1910s and 40s made the continuation of colonialism in the traditional sense untenable. And so all across Afrika and the Caribbean phenomena occurred that hadn’t been seen in 150 years since the children of Haiti rose up and dealt a devastating blow to their captors and would-be captors: Black states emerged. These grand shakings of the European colonial system were deeply meaningful for All-Afrikan people, and the reverberations could be clearly felt among Afrika’s children in this place called amerikkka. This is why upon Ghana’s independence from their colonial captors, Baba Martin did what any Black person with the means, stature, and will would do — he attended the celebrations for the newly independent nation. His visit solidified his determination that “the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it.” The political developments of any corner of the Afrikan world were deeply meaningful for all Afrikans. If Black people could rise to state power and make an honest attempt at seizing control of their own destinies there, then it could happen anywhere and everywhere in the Afrikan world.

That vibration stretched out like a healing pulse across the Continent and the Caribbean and indeed to this place we now call home. And so, in 1968, within a decade prior to which no less than 47 Afrikan and Caribbean countries held their colonizers in contempt and declared self-governance, 500 delegates from across what we call the united states gathered in Detroit to declare the Afrikan nation in this land to be independent. These delegates came to realize that the descendants of Afrika in this country constitute our own nation, and the South, where our people lived and died and struggled and toiled and sang and danced and loved for centuries, that the South is our homeland. They recognized the South as our birthright, as our 40 acres too long delayed, as the place where we would finally exercise our own style of governance and self-determination that we had been viciously denied since our ancestors were taken from shores we’d never known — as our New Afrika. And so, on March 31, 1968, these delegates declared the five Southern states stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina to be the territory of the Republic of New Afrika, and to be then and forever free.

On March 31, 1968, the Afrikan people of this land declared ourselves free. And on April 4, 1968, while he was in Memphis only 600 miles away supporting the garbage workers’ struggle, our captors struck down our Baba Martin in cold blood. Five days later. Five days after we made our intent known that we would no longer live under the political authority of white terror, “civil rights” be damned, they struck our Baba down. Lover of nonviolence, lover of justice, lover of all people, they struck him down.

Five days later they struck him down. Perhaps because they knew our freedom from them was at hand, and that Baba Martin could lead us to salvation. Perhaps they knew if anyone could lead us to believe in our own freedom, it was him. So they killed him in cold blood, standing out there on that balcony, and ensured he would always be there to watch down over us.

What does it mean to love so fiercely that it hurts? To call a blessing so fierce that it descends like a curse? First scorching away injustice, only to leave fertile ground for love to grow. Perhaps this is what Baba Martin’s King called us to do when he said, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

That same message is the one that our Baba Martin still teaches us from beyond the grave. If we stop long enough to listen, if we close our eyes to the glitz and the glam afforded to a chosen few, if we strain our ears to hear above the fanfare for a pale reflection of a man killed and co-opted by the state, we can still hear him speak. He tells us that it is time for us to be free. And that we truly cannot wait any longer.

Much love to the ancestor, Baba Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Àṣẹ.

For an overview history of the New Afrikan Independence Movement, see Edward Onaci, Free the Land.