Dear Dr. King,
There will be a march this Saturday to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Actually, there will be two marches, with leaders of each claiming to be walking in your footsteps.
The march being led by Al Sharpton is the only one with any legitimacy. Sharpton was mentored by Jesse Jackson similar to the way you mentored Jesse. Sharpton is being joined by Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League; Benjamin Jealous, the head of the NAACP, and your oldest son, Martin Luther King III. You would be proud of all of them. You’d be especially proud because they are refusing to let Glenn Beck, an ultra-conservative talk show host, hijack your memory.
If you thought Paul Harvey was terrible in your day, this guy is far worse. Beck is a shameless liar who refuses to back down even after being caught in a blatant lie. He will be joined by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who in the memorable words of former NFL great Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, couldn’t spell cat if you spotted her the “c” and the “a.” They are headliners for a separate march at the Lincoln Memorial. In typical fashion, Beck pretends that selecting the Aug. 28 date for his rally was pure happenstance. Of course, that’s pure nonsense.
I am sure you know by now that in 2008 we elected Barack Obama, the son of a Black man from Kenya and a White woman from Kansas, president of the United States. Beck accused our nation’s first Black president of having “a deep-seated hatred for White people or the White culture.” Beck said that about an African-American who was reared by his White grandparents. In Obama’s best-selling books, he speaks fondly of his grandparents and has never exhibited any hate, deep-seated or otherwise, toward Whites or any other racial or ethnic group.
Not content with merely attacking President Obama, Beck even attacked his wife and children. After Obama’s then 11-year-old daughter, Malia, asked when the BP old spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be plugged, Beck mocked her on his national radio program and questioned her intelligence. He did that just two days after declaring a politician’s family should be off limits.
Not only did Beck not apply that to Obama’s daughter, he didn’t apply it to his wife, Michelle. He said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first lady with her—excuse the expression—but with her breasts all smooshed up…”
When Beck was reminded that Aug. 28 is a sacred day for those interested in jobs, peace and justice, he claimed that it was “divine providence” that his rally was scheduled to coincide with the 47th anniversary of your “I Have a Dream” speech. He contends, “…Too many have gotten just lazy or they have purposely distorted Martin Luther King’s ideas of judge a man by the content of his character.”
Of course, he and Rush Limbaugh, another conservative talk show host, are the main culprits. Beck is one of many conservatives who have tried to invoke your memory while fighting against everything you represented.
For example, anti-affirmative action foe Ward Connerly, a Black man, professed to be acting in your spirit as he traveled around the nation trying to get states to ban affirmative action. When your children challenged him in public, Connerly had the gall to claim that he—not your offsprings—was being true to your words and deeds.
But we know, as you reminded us, “A lie cannot live.”
At the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the leaders of all of the major civil rights organizations were present. Today, however, SNCC is defunct, CORE exists in name only and the infighting is so fierce in SCLC, your old organization, that although your daughter, Bernice, was elected president last October, she refuses to assume office until there is a cease fire among feuding factions.
Of the remaining major civil rights organizations, the heads of all of them will participate in the march Saturday except one—Jesse Jackson. He will be leading a march 525 miles away in Detroit to commemorate the Walk to Freedom March you led there on June 28, 1963, exactly two months before the March on Washington.
After laying claim to your legacy through hard work and even harder self-promotion, Jesse’s star has faded. Unfortunately, your former protege is still clinging to the lie that he was the last person to cradle you in your dying moments in Memphis. To the contrary, your best friend Ralph Albernathy told me in a tape-recorded interview before he died that Jesse was lying and dared him to make that claim in his presence. Even so, most Blacks were willing to overlook Jesse’s obvious foibles. But that, too, had its limits. For most African-Americans, the last straw was hearing Jesse say during the presidential campaign that he wanted to dismember certain delicate body parts of Barack Obama.
So while Jesse is in Detroit commentating a march two months after its anniversary, Al Sharpton, Marc Morial, Ben Jealous and Martin III will be resisting Glenn Beck’s latest effort to appropriate your good name. In doing so, they will be keeping the dream alive.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)