It’s King Day. Today, January 15, would have been the 89th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As with so many great figures in history, the passing decades have softened our remembrance of the time in which King was active and during which he lost his life. Today, even conservative right-wingers whose forebears stood in opposition to virtually everything King tried to accomplish now pay respectful homage and join in celebrating the endless TV reruns of the “I have a dream” speech.
As a weekend editorial in the Charlotte Observer reminded us, however, we would do well to remind ourselves today — at a time in which the president of the United States makes nice with white supremacists makes a mockery of so much of what King tried to accomplish — that King was not so universally loved when he was in the midst of the struggle. As the Observer points out:
“Martin Luther King Jr. was not a well-liked man. He was one of the most polarizing figures in the United States during his final few years of life. He was not the cuddly creature we re-invent every King Day to lie to ourselves and our kids about how he only wanted us to get along. His approval rating began to rise only after he was no longer here to demand America live up to its ideals.
King wanted peace, but not at the expense of equality. He wanted little black girls and little black boys to play together, but not if it meant pretending racism didn’t exist. He respected authority, but challenged those wearing badges and carrying batons and sitting in the Oval Office.
He wanted moral clarity, not cheap comfort. Were he alive today, he’d still be hated by those wedded to the status quo. Because he’d notice the poor still being vilified as lazy. He’d see large corporations, like Walmart, brag proudly about modest pay increases then quietly announce thousands of layoffs. The GOP would still have enacted a tax law skewed to the rich then pass work requirements for Medicaid benefits – something they have never required of wealthy Americans receiving government largesse. He’d know the government pays private collectors triple what they retrieve in back taxes from the low-income while high-income tax cheats skate.
That’s why we should shelve the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech this King Day. It has been used too often as an excuse to not have to face hard truths or fight for the most vulnerable among us.”
As the editorial goes on to note, King was a man who rightfully defended so-called “rioters,” critiqued capitalism, called for radical redistribution of wealth and power, called for whites to be made aware of their racial ignorance and pushed back against so-called “moderates” who counseled patience in the fight for equality.
The bottom line: As the editorial explains:”He wanted justice and peace. If he could have only one, there’s no doubt which he’d choose.”