Monday, January 17, 2011

More Than "the Content of Their Character"

For years I've been uncomfortable on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  I brace myself to hear people in the news media zero in on just one aspect of Dr. King's life:  The "I Have a Dream" speech.  Hands down, it is one of the greatest speeches ever spoken, and it's message resonates still.   But too often, I've felt that Dr. King's words have been used by people who lock onto snippets of what he said ("the content of their character" lovers) without taking in completely everything that he said (and experienced) before and after August 28, 1963.  To do that would require people to think of unpleasant aspects of our collective recent American past, and it is clear that there are many, many people who are more than ready to avoid those recollections (but we still have "the content of their character" line from the speech).

I decided that I wanted to get a quick refresher on the Poor People's Campaign that Dr. King was in the process of launching toward the end of his life.  As I read the purported goals of the campaign, a guaranteed annual income, full employment, and such (all with federal help), I was confident that many of "the content of our character" lovers were either unfamiliar with this aspect of Dr. King's legacy, or they choose to ignore it, and many would certainly be fully against such goals.  Yet, just as Dr. King had that dream in August of '63, he had other dreams.

Dr. King's entire legacy is important for all of us to learn, not just catch phrases.


Tc said...

I think most people know that MLK, like all humans, was flawed.

But he is commemorated today because of what he did for the early 60s Civil Rights movement, when he proclaimed (as you point out) the American ideal that all men are created equal and should be judged based on themselves, not their skin color. His (and the movements) achievements at this time helped culminate the ideal of equality first introduced in this country 190 years earlier.

That is why he is honored.

He's not honored for his socialist ideals or his un-American anti-capitalist goals. And I find those concepts as misguided and repugnant, no matter who espoused them or how right MLK had been years earlier on other issues.

And I shudder to think the reaction of many if a right-wing blogger had used today to point out MLK's Marxist/socialist leanings instead of praising him for the good he helped accomplish.

hscfree said...

TC: I think you are mistaken in thinking that there are not those who honor King's efforts and desire to see the lives of the poor of all races improved. He is honored for that, and he should be. I disagree with some of the methods he espoused, but I think that it is a very good goal to go for us to try to eliminate as much poverty as we can(and don't forget, in this new political reality I must be a socialist (which is being flung about like racist) since I think government run universal health care should be something our country should have period, like every other first and second world nation on the planet). It is the height of folly to think that the private sector/free market/wall street can do that alone (or even have the desire to do it).

Misguided? possibly. Repugnant? to you. I think that you forget that King was called un-American for all of the activities you say that you honor.

I know I am unique in my perspective, but I am confident that there are some on the right who will remind us that King was indeed flawed. I am cool with that, as long as their is praise there too.

And I will end with an example. My favorite founding father is Jefferson, and that was one flawed trick right there, but I appreciate him even more knowing that he was struggling with his reality (Sally and their kids, feeling about black folks) while still doing utterly brilliant things.

Which reminds me. I don't think anything that King did or said was un-American. I am throughly tired of hearing that term used when the person it's hurled at wants to help people. You simply don't like his position on some issues. I mean I disagree with you on a number of issues, but it has never crossed my mind to call you or people who support your points "un-American." I think that that term is the "politically correct" of the right. And "patriot" is quickly following suit. It's stupid.