Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr; His Legacy and His Work Goes On

There is irony abound in this Martin Luther King Day. One year ago Dr. King's birthday was a celebration, with this nation about to inaugurate its first African American president. We gave ourselves a collective pat on the back; we felt that we may have at last gotten to "The Promised Land" that Dr. King talked about the night before he was assassinated. We thought that, indeed, we have were really there- that the content of ones's character should be all that matters.

But we're not quite there yet, as the events of the past year have told us. We have a president how has been attacked by some on the lunatic fringe as being racist, or a man who was not even legally the president because (they claim) he was foreign born. There have been some, even in the hall's of Congress, who have treated this President with disrespect....Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina even called President Obama a liar on the House floor.

We are closer to the goal of Dr. King's dream, but aren't quite there yet.

And this past week Haiti, a nation of descendants of former slaves and the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. The de facto head of the conservative movement in the United States told his radio listeners not to help the hundreds of thousands of those affected. And the nations most popular tele-evangelist had his viewers believing the Haitian people got what they deserved because 200 years ago Haiti's leaders made a pact with the devil.

Racism is dying in America....but it ain't dead yet. Americans of all backgrounds have given from their hearts during this crisis, even while we are recovering from the worst economic downturn since the 1930's. As I've said before, the United States is a good, benevolent.....but very human and flawed....giant.

This morning I watched the two hour documentary King on The History Channel. It was hosted by Tom Brokaw, and covered the life and career of Dr. King, and was a warts and all portrait. Something that has been forgotten with the passage of time (and this film was a reminder) were the problems endured by King in his last years. Yes, King leadership helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act. But when Dr. King brought his movement north to Chicago and the the inner cities north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and started to focus on the poverty of America's underclass, he met resistance from America's white middle class, and even from some former liberal allies. Dr. King's opposition to the Vietnam War alienated him from his ally President Lyndon Johnson, as well as from white Middle America. J. Edgar Hoover led the charge to label King as a communist, and many in the United States started to believe this smear. Some younger African Americans felt King's non violent approach was too soft; some started following more miltant leaders in black American like Stokley Carmichael.

But Dr. King stood by his principles, and never abandoned his tactic of non violent confrontation. His way was that of Mahatma Gandhi.

And it was like Gandhi, that he died- a nonviolent man cut down by a gunshot.

The best, the brightest, and the greatest. What is it in our nature that leads us to try to extinguish our own guiding lights?

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