Monday, January 15, 2007

on Dr. King.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day falls on the man's birthday, it's not a bad idea to remember that many in the political environment today who use his words and speeches to try and advocate policies that he likely would not have touched with a ten-foot pole were the types who declared him an anarchist and an inciter to violence back in the day. Sadly, a very good article on that is restricted to subscribers of the New Republic, so these excerpts over at Hullaballoo will have to do.

When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning: "Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome." Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, "[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case." Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break--in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

Some called it lawlessness, anarchy, and incitement to violence. Today, the sane world recognizes it as justice, while others try to take the words and twist them to say racism is over and the corrective measures are not in King's spirit, barely 40 years after the federal government decided to ensure the black person's right to vote.

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