Monday, January 21, 2008

Is true meaning of King's legacy lost?

Dr. Martin Luther King

In this pop-culture moment, the message may be missed


Nearly 40 years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., some say his legacy is being frozen in a moment in time that ignores the full complexity of the man and his message.

"Everyone knows — even the smallest kid knows about Martin Luther King — can say his most famous moment was that 'I have a dream' speech," said Henry Louis Taylor Jr., professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo. "No one can go further than one sentence. All we know is that this guy had a dream. We don't know what that dream was."

King was working on anti-poverty and anti-war issues at the time of his death. He had spoken out against the Vietnam War and was in Memphis when he was killed in April 1968 in support of striking sanitation workers.

King had come a long way from the crowds who cheered him at the 1963 March on Washington, when he was introduced as "the moral leader of our nation" — and when he pronounced "I have a dream" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

By taking on issues outside segregation, he had lost the support of many newspapers and magazines, and his relationship with the White House had suffered, said Harvard Sitkoff, a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire who has written a recently published book on King.

"He was considered by many to be a pariah," Sitkoff said.

But he took on issues of poverty and militarism because he considered them vital "to make equality something real and not just racial brotherhood but equality in fact," Sitkoff said.

Scholarly study of King hasn't translated into the popular perception of him and the civil rights movement, said Richard Greenwald, professor of history at Drew University.

"We're living increasingly in a culture of top 10 lists, of celebrity biopics which simplify the past as entertainment or mythology," he said. "We lose a view on what real leadership is by compressing him down to one window."

That does a disservice to both King and society, said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.

By freezing him at that point, by putting him on a pedestal of perfection that doesn't acknowledge his complex views, "it makes it impossible both for us to find new leaders and for us to aspire to leadership," Harris-Lacewell said.

She believes it's important for Americans in 2008 to remember how disliked King was before his death in April 1968.

"If we forget that, then it seems like the only people we can get behind must be popular," Harris-Lacewell said. "Following King meant following the unpopular road, not the popular one."

In becoming an icon, King's legacy has been used by people all over the political spectrum, said Glenn McNair, associate professor of history at Kenyon College.

He's been part of the 2008 presidential race, in which Barack Obama could be the country's first black president. Obama has invoked King, and Sen. John Kerry endorsed Obama by saying "Martin Luther King said that the time is always right to do what is right."

Not all the references have been received well. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came under fire when she was quoted as saying King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King has "slipped into the realm of symbol that people use and manipulate for their own purposes," McNair said.

Harris-Lacewell said that is something people need to push back against.

"It's not OK to slip into flat memory of who Dr. King was, it does no justice to us and makes him to easy to appropriate," she said. "Every time he gets appropriated, we have to come out and say that's not OK. We do have the ability to speak back."


Gerald said...

The Sentencing of Fr. John Dear

On January 24, 2008 Fr. Dear will be sentenced for a nonviolent demonstration.

Gerald said...

The whole world knows this war is a disaster. History will judge us all for where we stood, what we did, what we said at this kairos moment. I urge you to choose life, take a stand for peace, and call upon the whole country to speak out against this war and be converted to the truth of nonviolence.

But I take my case to a higher court, and plead before the ultimate judge, the God of peace, for us all: “Give us a new world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons, a new world where one and all live by your eternal law of nonviolence. Help us to end this war and abolish war forever. Thank you, God of peace, for hearing my plea. Amen.”

Gerald said...

We are closer to a nuclear holocaust

Gerald said...

January 23, 2008 is another day in the passing of Roe v Wade. Abortion IS a dastardly act but so IS the silence from pro-life organizations that avoid additional pro-life issues as adoption services, social services, day care centers, and health care for mother and child.

This silence reminds me of Nazi America's schizophrenic personality regarding all life issues beyond abortion.

The United States of Evil has serious psychopathological disorders that impinge upon clear thinking in the decision-making process.

Gerald said...

Hitler Bush makes me puke.

Hitler Bush is a hypocrite.

Bush embraces pro-lifers. This morning, on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Bush met with the participants in the March for Life, anti-choice group. The National Review’s K-Lo describes the scene:

On a cold morning in Washington today, the president got a warm reception by pro-lifers in the East Room of the White House. The crowd — which included the organizers of the official March for Life — expressed their gratitude in what seemed like an endless sea of applause, breaking up the president’s speech, which continued as he worked the room.

The president said that “in a civilized society, the strong protect the weak.” He talked about the unborn as not only being lives that deserve protection, but beings with “souls.” The president said that “America is better than this” — meaning legal abortion. … The president’s receptive audience was grateful — no doubt a gratitude that was intensified by the prospect of a less-welcoming administration to come.

Where is universal health care for all Americans so they can have life? No health care means no life at some point in a person's life.

Gerald said...


Gerald said...

Choosing Life

It’s fair to say that Debbie Borza has experienced far more than her fair share of emotional pain. Borza’s daughter, Deora Bodley, was the youngest person killed aboard United Flight 93 during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Her former husband, Derrill Bodley, Deora’s father, died in a motorcycle accident.

Despite the burden of grief that she carries daily, Borza says she has made a conscious decision to look for positive ways to ease her pain.

“Since I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life trying to fill that void, I choose joy and happiness and peace and love,” she says. Borza now seeks out people inspired by her daughter’s life, encouraging volunteerism in her memory.

Surely those who are able to remain hopeful and faithful in the face of loss will be blessed. Reach out to console the bereaved people in your life.

Those who mourn... will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Jesus, infuse us with Your everlasting hope.

Gerald said...

War remains the decisive human failure.
– John Kenneth Galbraith

Gerald said...

A failure to think is nothing new for Hitler Bush

not_gerald said...

["On January 24, 2008 Fr. Dear will be sentenced for a nonviolent demonstration."]

This, when real, merits the highest punishment. But most codes extend their definition of treason to acts not really against one’s country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government and acts against the oppressions of the government; the latter are virtues; yet they have furnished more victims to the executioner than the former; because real treasons are rare; oppressions frequent. The unsuccessful strugglers against tyranny, have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in all countries.

Thomas Jefferson - March 22, 1792