A Belated Tribute To Martin Luther King

One of my somewhat regular commenters – critic, that is – rightly chastised me for not writing about Martin Luther King on his national holiday.  I am humbled by my lapse.  But it is not too late to correct that oversight.  So, I shall.

My perspective on King is somewhat unique from most people for two reasons. I lived and was politically active during the years of King’s crusades – and in Chicago where he brought his crusade.  That was the first northern city to which he brought his civil rights crusade.  He chose the Windy City because it was regarded as both the most Democrat city in America and the most racist.  After being hit by a rock, King declared that “Mississippi could learn hatred from Chicago.”  

I witnessed the rioting and arson that exploded on the City’s segregated southside.  King in life and death had pulled the curtains down to expose the inner workings of urban racism.

Some wonder why I so frequently point to the urban racism of the big city Democrat political machines.  Actually, King is the reason.  They say I keep bringing up the past, but not so.  The same institutional racism I witnessed in the 1960s can still be seen today in the same segregated communities with the same deprivations of education, employment, housing, and safety.

King played a role in inspiring my life-long dedication to civil rights activism.

The second reason my perspective is unique is that I have spent the better part of a decade writing a yet unfinished manuscript on the history of Democratic Party racism.  I did a lot of research on King.  He always eschewed violence.  He never promoted blacks as a race or a tribe – but fought for all Americans, black and white, to be treated as individuals regardless of skin color.

I was not motivated by my conservative Republican principles to fight against racism in my hometown – or to author a book chronicling the long sad history of Democratic Party racism.  It was those events I witnessed — and about which I learned through people like King — that repelled me from participation in the Democratic Party.

While I never met King, I feel that I have a pretty good perspective on the man.  Of course, I admire him – and always have.  In many ways, however, he is not the man so many of today’s civil rights activists portray.

It is no small irony that King was committed to the Republican Party until 1964 when the GOP tapped Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the Party’s presidential candidate.  He did not entirely shift to the Democratic Party but did collaborate closely with President Johnson in securing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act – which incidentally were passed by the overwhelming vote of Republicans in Congress over the objection and the filibuster of the Democrats.

King had previously worked closely with President Eisenhower and then-Vice President Nixon on the largely forgotten 1956 and 1960 civil rights acts that were signed into law – but ironically were opposed or gutted by both Johnson and then-Senator John Kennedy.

Though they invoke King’s name, the modern breed of Democrat civil rights leaders – such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – are not like him.  He was the real thing.  King was not a tribalist.  He did not believe in isolating the black community in permanent confrontation with the white community.  

He believed in a society in which the color of one’s skin would be irrelevant in all ways – not the emblem of division and discord.  He believed in “integration” – a word that is not heard as much these days because too many black leaders no longer see integration … assimilation … as the goal.  King did and he said as much in his speeches.

To enhance political power, many on the left — and in the civil rights movement — often draw pernicious comparatives between race issues today and those of the 1960s.  I think King would be appalled at the utter dishonesty of such suggestions.  For the vast majority of Americans, racism is in the rearview mirror.  There is no law-based segregation—although de facto institutional segregation and racism is still found in our major cities. 

The ubiquitous cross-burning, lynchings and race-based murders are extremely rare, not the rule.  There are no Sheriff Bull Connors to sic dogs on protestors … no George Wallaces standing in the school doorway … no more Jim Crow laws … no more Democrat paramilitary groups – such as the KKK, the Red Shirts, the White Citizens Councils or the Knights of the White Camellia.

If King were with us today, I think he would focus his energy on the residuals of America’s ebbing institutional racism.  I think he would again march in those major cities which have continued to oppress the large segregated and impoverished black populations in their inner cities.

He would be speaking out against some of the same injustices he found more than 50 years ago – and protesting the unprecedented levels of crime and death that have become iconic features of black oppression in modern America.

But he would recognize the progress.  I honestly do not believe that King would see the current claims of black voter suppression as being very credible.  He knew what real voter suppression and intimidations was like.

Every time I hear or read Kings “I have a dream” speech, I agree with virtually everything he said.  His dream is no different than my wish for America. In the words of King, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

When I see the way we celebrate Martin Luther King in these times, I get a sense that too many people do not know the man – and too many people play on that fact to abuse his memory.  That is my opinion – a person whose heart celebrates King’s memory – the real person — and his mission – a just mission — even when it is not his official holiday.

So, there ‘tis.

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