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“We’re Not There Yet”: On This Martin Luther King Day, How Far Have We Really Come?

Martin Luther King Day honors the birthday of our nation’s 20th century conscience. MLK Day also serves as a benchmark against which to measure the extent to which three plagues cited by King — racism, poverty and war — have been eradicated.

Some judgments come easy. George Wallace’s cry, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” is a sound of the past.

The Martin Luther King-led civil rights movement changed the political landscape of the United States. When the landmark Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965, seven months after King launched the Selma march that spurred its passage, African American political office holders in southern states were near zero. By 2013, the number of southern black elected officials had blossomed to more than 300.

Since January 2010, a president who is African American has delivered the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Without question, there has been change and forward movement in the political arena. But we’re not there yet. Yes, Wallace, is off the scene. However, today we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

There have been other achievements in the uphill struggle for equality. More African American students are graduating from high school and college since King’s assassination. The black middle class has grown. African American professionals are contributing to virtually every aspect of society.

Progress against racial oppression, however, does not equal victory over the inequalities that prevent African Americans from assuming a rightful place in this country. Glaring disparities exist. Academic achievement, graduation rates, health-care status, employment, incarceration — vast racial gulfs persist.

Then there’s war.

Vietnam broke King’s heart.

What would he think of the more than 6,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of U.S. civilians dying due to direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan between October 2001 and April 2015? How would he view our 21st century flooded with millions of war refugees? Could he come to terms with an Iraq war federal price tag of $4.4 trillion?

But I believe that man of peace would be most troubled by the extent to which our scientifically advanced world has outdistanced our moral values.

Sixty-two years ago, in a sermon at his uncle’s church in Detroit, King delivered a sermon in which he said the great danger facing us was not so much the nuclear bomb created by physical science, but “that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls … capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness.” A perfect reference to the toxic violence of Islamic terrorists such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda — and haters here at home.

How far have we really come?

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How The Right Hijacked MLK To Fight Gay Marriage”: Their Cause As Just And Noble As Those Against Slavery, Segregation, And Nazism?

In their fight against the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, leading conservatives have been turning to an unlikely source for inspiration:  Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (PDF), the collection of notes that King smuggled out of his jail cell during his eight-day detention for protesting the Jim Crow laws that sanctioned discrimination across the South.

The letter is one of the most iconic documents from of the Civil Rights era and includes King’s observations on the injustice of segregation and the daily humiliations that black men and women were suffering in their public and private lives.

Fast forward 50-plus years to Sunday morning when pastor-turned-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee referenced King as he decried the same-sex marriage ruling handed down last week as “judicial tyranny.” Huckabee also predicted that Christians across the country would “go the way of Martin Luther King,” and disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriages must be legal in all 50 states.

“In his brilliant essay, the letters from a Birmingham jail, [King] reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all,” Huckabee during an interview on ABC’s This Week.  “And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.”

Days earlier, the National Organization for Marriage, which has long opposed marriage equality, cited the same clause in a blistering take down of the Court’s ruling, comparing it to the 1857 Dred Scott decision that declared slavery constitutional.

As the marriage question has wound its way through the courts, conservatives from Franklin Graham to Tom DeLay and Dr. James Dobson (PDF) used the same portion of King’s letter to make the case that the Court’s decision to expand the right to marry would be unjust and immoral.

And when a group of Alabama pastors gave Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore an award this year to recognize his efforts to stop same-sex marriage, they called it the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail Award.”

But King experts say the basic premise of equating King’s fight against segregation with moral objections to same-sex marriage doesn’t ring true to King’s broader message of inclusion, tolerance and the rights of minorities to live by the laws of the majority.

“King never said a law is immoral if it doesn’t line up with the Bible. He would never have said anything like that. That’s not the way he thought,” said Doug Shipman, the founding director of the National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights. “If you look at the letter, morality is bringing people together, not separating them from each other. So it seems odd that King would draw an exclusive line someplace.”

More broadly, it also seems odd that some cultural and religious conservatives are increasingly appropriating not just the language of the Civil Rights movement, but are also identifying themselves as an oppressed minority in a country that remains mostly white and mostly Christian.

On Sunday, Roy Moore warned Alabama churchgoers that they should prepare for their persecution.  “Welcome to the new world,” he said.

At a protest to keep the Confederate flag flying on the statehouse grounds in Alabama over the weekend, a woman carried a sign that read “Southern Lives Matter,” which spawned the Twitter meme #SouthernLivesMatter. It was exactly as ugly a cocktail as you’d expect from a combination of race, Twitter, and a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the Confederacy.

At the same rally, a Confederate flag supporter told the AP, “Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover. I mean I do feel that way, like there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

Those truths of history make it impossible to draw a straight line from American slavery to Nazi Germany to the Jim Crowe South to today’s conservatives, who have seen social change sweep across the country in the last week and felt powerless to stop it.

Historically accurate or not, that lack of power, that sense of being a victim to current events, has become a key element of the new populism on the right that candidates like Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker are trying to harness.

That explains Huckabee’s and other conservatives’ decision to graft the fight against gay marriage onto MLK’s fight for Civil Rights. It also makes Ted Cruz’s reaction to the marriage decision (telling an Iowa crowd that “the last 24 hours at the United States Supreme Court were among the darkest hours of our nation” and hitting the “elites” on the Court), make perfect sense. And it explains why Scott Walker would suggest a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage that would be ratified by the states through a vote of the people.

By telling conservatives that their fight is as difficult and just and noble as those against slavery, segregation, and Nazism, the GOPers are not only endorsing conservatives’ fight, they are also casting themselves as the next Lincoln, the next FDR, or the next MLK that history will require to overcome tyranny.

When Huckabee quoted from King’s letter on Sunday, it wasn’t the first time. At the March for Marriage in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2014, he read lengthy passages of King’s words from a white iPhone to the crowd that had gathered to protest same-sex marriage.

“I wish I had penned those words,” Huckabee said. “But they were penned by someone who understood freedom, and understood that there was a time to stand up against law when it has become unjust. Those are the words that were penned in 1954 by Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

Among other omissions and inaccuracies, Huckabee botched the date King wrote the letter. It was in 1963.

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, July 1, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Martin Luther King Jr, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“John Lewis Tells His Truth About Selma”: Reflections Of A Legacy Of Resistance That Led Many To Struggle And Die For Justice

The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.”

The movie “Selma” is a work of art. It conveys the inner significance of the ongoing struggle for human dignity in America, a cornerstone of our identity as a nation. It breaks through our too-often bored and uninformed perception of our history, and it confronts us with the real human drama our nation struggled to face 50 years ago.

And “Selma” does more than bring history to life, it enlightens our understanding of our lives today. It proves the efficacy of nonviolent action and civic engagement, especially when government seems unresponsive. With poignant grace, it demonstrates that Occupy, inconvenient protests and die-ins that disturb our daily routine reflect a legacy of resistance that led many to struggle and die for justice, not centuries ago, but in our lifetimes. It reminds us that the day could be approaching when that price will be required again.

But now this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Selma marches has been called into question. And yet one two-hour movie cannot tell all the stories encompassed in three years of history — the true scope of the Selma campaign. It does not portray every element of my story, Bloody Sunday, or even the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?

“Lincoln,” for example, was a masterpiece, a fine representation of what it takes to pass a bill. It did not, however, even mention Frederick Douglass or the central role of the abolitionists, who were all pivotal to the passage of the 13th Amendment. For some historians that may be a glaring error, but we accept these omissions as a matter of perspective and the historical editing needed to tell a coherent story. “Selma” must be afforded the same artistic license.

Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not. If a man is chained to a chair, does anyone need to tell him he should struggle to be free? The truth is the marches occurred mainly due to the extraordinary vision of the ordinary people of Selma, who were determined to win the right to vote, and it is their will that made a way.

As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. I know. I was there. Don’t get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country’s great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement.

This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long-overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today. It may well become a touchstone, a turning point for another generation of activists who will undertake the next evolutionary push for justice in America.

It would be a tragic error if Hollywood muted its praise for a film because it is too much a story and not enough an academic exercise.

Whenever I have a tough vote in Congress, I ask myself what would leaders of courage do? What would King and Robert Kennedy do? What is the right thing to do? What is the fair and honest thing to do?

The people have already spoken. They are marching to the theaters, arrested by the drama of this film, moved by ideas too long left to languish, driven to their feet and erupting in enthusiastic applause.

 

By: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the leaders of two of the Selma marches, is portrayed in “Selma.” He has been a member of Congress since 1987; Op-Ed Opinion, The Los Angeles Times, january 16, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“MLK’s Prophetic Call For Economic Justice”: This Country Has Socialism For The Rich, Rugged Individualism For The Poor

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic message was fiery and radical. To our society’s great shame, it has also proved timeless.

As we celebrate King’s great achievement and sacrifice, it is wrong to round off the sharp edges of his legacy. He saw inequality as a fundamental and tragic flaw in this society, and he made clear in the weeks leading up to his assassination that economic issues were becoming the central focus of his advocacy.

Nearly five decades later, King’s words on the subject still ring true. On March 10, 1968, just weeks before his death, he spoke to a union group in New York about what he called “the other America.” He was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign whose premise was that issues of jobs and issues of justice were inextricably intertwined.

“One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,” King said. “That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. . . . But as we assemble here tonight, I’m sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

Those who lived in the other America, King said, were plagued by “inadequate, substandard and often dilapidated housing conditions,” by “substandard, inferior, quality-less schools,” by having to choose between unemployment and low-wage jobs that didn’t even pay enough to put food on the table.

The problem was structural, King said: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

Eight days later, speaking in Memphis, King continued the theme. “Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day?” he asked striking sanitation workers. “And they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen, and it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”

King explained the shift in his focus: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

Obviously, much has changed for African Americans since that time; anyone who says otherwise is plainly wrong. There is no longer any question of who gets served at lunch counters. Mississippi, where African Americans were once disenfranchised at the barrel of a gun, has more black elected officials than any other state. An African American family lives in the White House.

But what King saw in 1968 — and what we all should recognize today — is that it is useless to try to address race without also taking on the larger issue of inequality. He was planning a poor people’s march on Washington that would include not only African Americans but also Latinos, Native Americans and poor Appalachian whites. He envisioned a rainbow of the dispossessed, assembled to demand not just an end to discrimination but a change in the way the economy doles out its spoils.

King did not live to lead that demonstration, which ended up becoming the “Resurrection City” tent encampment on the Mall. Protesters never won passage of the “economic bill of rights” they had sought.

Today, our society is much more affluent overall — and much more unequal. Since King’s death, the share of total U.S. income earned by the top 1 percent has more than doubled. Studies indicate there is less economic mobility in the United States than in most other developed countries. The American dream is in danger of becoming a distant memory.

This column is not about policy prescriptions or partisan politics. King was a prophet. His role was to see clearly what others could not or would not recognize, and to challenge our consciences.

Paying homage to King as one of our nation’s greatest leaders means remembering not just his soaring oratory about racial justice but his pointed words about economic justice as well. Inequality, he told us, threatens the well-being of the nation. Extending a hand to those in need makes us stronger.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 16, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Economic Inequality, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“On Johnson’s Watch, And He Did Nothing To Stop It”: ‘Selma’ Got It Right About Johnson, The FBI And King

The debate is sharp over whether the movie Selma got it right about Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with and to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A counter argument challenges the film’s depiction of Johnson as at best wary of King and his mass street action campaigns in Selma in 1965 and the South for the passage of a voting rights bill, and at worst outright hostile to King’s actions. This debate will likely rage for years to come. But even more worrisome, Selma strongly hints that Johnson aided and abetted if not an active plotter in the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s dirty, illegal and covert war against King.

Whether Johnson knew every gruesome detail of Hoover’s assault on King is not known. However, there are tell-tell clues that Johnson’s involvement with Hoover’s covert campaign went deep. The first tip was his executive order on New Year’s Day, 1964 which in effect assured Hoover his tenure as FBI Director for life.

He reaffirmed that in November 1964 in a meeting with his then Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach had pressed Johnson to rein Hoover’s wiretapping excesses in. Johnson made it clear that he would he not take action against Hoover. He considered him a much valued source for information. That information was the steady stream of illegal wiretaps on the sexual antics and personal activities of any and every one from entertainers to Johnson’s political foes. The biggest haul of tapes though was those that Hoover had stockpiled on King. At the same meeting, Katzenbach explicitly told Johnson that Hoover was trying to peddle the tapes on King’s private doings to cooperative journalists.

At a follow-up news conference, Johnson feigned indignation at both Hoover and King and pledged to damp down the friction between the two. Hoover took that as a tacit endorsement and green light to step up his by then virtually open assault on King. That campaign went beyond simply collecting salacious tapes on King. As Selma graphically showed, Hoover sent one of the tapes purporting to show King in an adulterous sexual liaison to his wife Coretta Scott King. The tape was recorded and sent to Southern Christian leadership Conference headquarters in late 1964 just about the time that Johnson again declared his support of Hoover.

Hoover’s brutal and systematic covert campaign against King had a two-fold aim. One was to discredit King as the nation’s paramount civil rights leader and to discredit the entire civil rights movement in the process.

Hoover, and other top FBI officials routinely spit out these choice expletives about King “Dangerous,” “evil,” and a “colossal fraud.” They didn’t stop at name calling. They talked ominously of “neutralizing” him as an effective leader. And even more ominously they sent him a poison pen letter flatly saying “King you are done” and suggesting he kill himself.

Hoover assigned Assistant FBI director William Sullivan the dirty job of getting the goods on King. Sullivan branded King as the “most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation.” In his book My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, Sullivan described the inner circle of men assigned to get King. The group was made up of special agents mainly drawn from the Washington and Atlanta FBI offices. Their job was to monitor all of King’s activities. Much of their dirty tactics are well-known. They deluged him with wiretaps, physical surveillance, poison-pen letters, threats, harassment, intimidation, and smear sexual leaks to the media, and even at the time of his murder, Hoover had more plans to intensify the spy campaign against King. Decades later, Sullivan still publicly defended the FBI’s war against him, and made no apology for it. The FBI patterned its spy and harassment campaign against King on the methods used by its counterintelligence division and internal security sections during the 1940s and ’50s. The arsenal of dirty tactics they used included unauthorized wiretaps, agent provocateurs, poison-pen letters, “black-bag jobs” (breaking and entering to obtain intelligence) and the compiling of secret dossiers.

In the 1960s, the FBI recruited thousands of “ghetto informants,” for their relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against African American groups. The bureau even organized its targets into Orwellian categories agents gave such labels as “Rabble Rouser Index,” “Agitator Index” and “Security Index.”

By the time Johnson assumed the presidency after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Hoover’s obsession with and campaign against King was in high gear. And the few times, Hoover’s campaign of slander and vilification of King was hinted at publicly, Johnson would shrug it off and reaffirm either publicly and privately Hoover’s absolute invaluable importance to him. What Johnson knew or worse authorized Hoover to do to thwart King will never be fully known. But as Selma pointed out, Hoover’s gutter campaign against King happened on Johnson’s watch, and he did nothing to stop it.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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