The Son My Father Sent To Birmingham

Greg Palast

My dad called me over and said, “I want you to listen to this.” It was 1965 and Martin Luther King was speaking about the three kinds of love as defined by the Greek philosophers. King’s philosophy lesson was given in a church surrounded by angry white men who changed their white sheets for police uniforms and were prepared to burn down the church as they had done before.

King was on a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery.

My father told me, “You’ll do that,” meaning I’d go down South, I’d join the Freedom Riders, become a lawyer for King, a knight for justice in an unjust world.

But why didn’t he go himself? Why didn’t he join the march, join the fight? I know: kids, responsibility, furniture. He was a furniture salesman. Furniture didn’t march. It sat there. It was sat upon. And the rich farted into the mattresses he sold them. The furniture store was locked from the inside by a poisonous fear of leaving life to chance.

So he put the burden of his quest on me. How screwed up is that? How staggeringly cruel.

On the fortieth anniversary of the Selma March, there was a big family-style dinner in Birmingham, Alabama, for the surviving giants of the Civil Rights movement. I couldn’t resist going down to report on it. I got a seat at the back.

At the end of his solemn speech, Martin Luther King III, son of the martyr, said, “‘d like to acknowledge the presence of a heroic young man among us. I took his book to my father’s grave and showed my father and I know he was pleased. Greg Palast, please rise.” Then the giants around me stood up, and I accepted with grace a standing ovation from those more deserving than me.

I didn’t bother to tell my dad.

By that time, he was a rotten old sonovabitch, bitter, bent over, incapable of accepting love even from his grandchildren.

I suppose that’s how I’ll end up. I don’t see how I can avoid it. The river runs fast and the canyon walls are steep.

Excerpt from Vultures’ Picnic by Greg Palast (Dutton/Penguin 2011). Removed from print by request of the author.

If you want the rest of the story, get the book, signed, from Greg’s private collection.

* * * * *

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low…  Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, and my father’s memory, our legal team has decided to expand on our prosecution of the lawsuit, Palast & Butler v. Brian Kemp.

Greg Palast

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