by Linn Washington Jr.
So, what would King say?
That is a standard question around this time of the year revolving around the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the national holiday celebrating his formidable accomplishments in aiding America truly become the “Land of the Free.”
It’s hard to say what anyone would say if they are no longer living to say what they’d say, because people change over time, some reaffirming long held positions and others totally rejecting previously held positions.
It’s probably safe to say there’s slim to no likelihood of seeing King seated in front of a glitzy “I Have A Dream” banner on a TV commercial where he’s shilling a national chain store’s King Holiday sales offering king-sized discounts on flat screen televisions.
So, what would King say about the dangerously escalating intolerance roiling America that had an impact—directly or indirectly—on the tragic mass shootings recently in Arizona?
Well, what King said during a 1957 might provide some guidance.
King made many observations of contemporary relevance during those remarks at the fabled Lincoln Memorial in D.C., the site of a rally this past summer convened by broadcast hate-monger Glenn Beck, who ludicrously claims that he carries King’s mantle today.
King assailed insipid leadership in the political and civic spheres.
“In this junction of our nation’s history there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership,” King observed, saying then what is so necessary to say now.
King spoke on the failure of leadership to address “racial justice,” a failing that persists today despite having the first Afro-American in the White House, a man who says his presidency is a product of King’s legacy of change.
“In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of government is all too silent and apathetic,” King noted.
This remark by King referenced the violent reaction to U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation—somewhat similar, albeit not apples-to-apples direct comparison, to the violent reactions erupting over the desegregation of the Oval Office, whose occupant has received more death threats than any president in American history according to the Secret Service.
With President Barack Obama’s moving speech last week on the need for reconciliation on incendiary political rhetoric during a memorial service for the victims of the Arizona massacre, is it wrong to apply King’s 1957 observation on silence from the executive branch?
Obama, always eager to be Mr. Nice Guy (or at least not the proverbial “Angry Black Man”) has allowed the right-wing verbal onslaught to persist for too long without strong rebuttal.
“This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both parties have betrayed the cause of justice,” King said during that 1957 speech.
“The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the Southern dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary Northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.”
That anemia of deeds certainly applies to the failure of Capitol Hill (and the Obama administration) to devise meaningful assistance for those lashed by the present depression with strategies like public service jobs where the federal government directly funds jobs for those unable to get jobs in America’s virtually jobless private sector.
Blowing away historic amnesia, a life-long concern of Dr. King centered on attaining economic fairness for Blacks and poor Americans of all colors—so-called Silver Rights.
The 1968 murder of King occurred on the eve of the launch of his Poor People’s Campaign to force the federal government into strongly addressing poverty from Harlem to the hollows of Appalachia.
The “blatant hypocrisy” King referenced in 1957 is applicable to a stinky stunt hatched by the Republicans now controlling the House.
Two weeks ago Republicans, with complicity from Democrats, kicked off the new session of Congress with a public reading of the Constitution putting con into Constitution by using a censored version of the document that selectively excluded salient passages, like those pertaining to slavery.
Compounding the deception of excising slavery and three other items from that happy-face Constitution reading exercise, Republicans killed the voting rights of the six congressional delegates from America’s remaining colonies in one of their first official actions.
By law, those six delegates cannot vote during regular congressional sessions. So stripping those delegates of their limited right to participate in occasional Committee of the Whole votes was mean-spirited and undemocratic—contradicting Republican claims that the Constitution reading “celebrated democracy.”
Those six disenfranchised delegates represent Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianna Islands and the Virgin Islands—coincidentally jurisdictions with majority non-white populations—all citizens but without representation.
“We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation…” King observed prophetically.
The best way to honor an honorable man like King is adhere to his prescriptions.
King, in 1957 pled with “the president and Congress to provide a strong, moral and courageous leadership…”
(Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning writer who teaches journalism at Temple University.)
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)