I’m not celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday today, but it has nothing to do with disagreeing with the man or his stated goals. I simply have no use for the political agenda of the people who claim to be carrying on his legacy.
If you listen to mainstream media accounts of the day, all decent people are joining together to celebrate civil rights and freedom. Here in Birmingham, the local newspaper has its coverage headed with these words: “Alabamians join together in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. — From Huntsville to Mobile, people are stopping to remember the civil rights icon with charity projects, speeches and marches.”
That’s a simplistic and sanitized version of what this day means. The implication of much of what you read today seems to be that anyone who doesn’t celebrate King’s birthday must be racist. The truth is more complicated and we need to admit that.
I live in the heart of where the Civil Rights Movement took place. Some of the worst abuses of white political power were on display in Birmingham as black men and women such as King (and some of their white allies) demanded change. There’s a Birmingham Civil Rights Institute if you need documentation of some of the evils of the day.
Black men and women didn’t have the same rights under state and local laws in many places, mostly in the South. It was difficult or impossible for blacks to vote. The law required black children to attend inferior schools and denied them access to schools for white children. Jim Crow laws required the segregation of races in various public facilities, such as waiting rooms, restrooms and even water fountains. Black people had to be afraid of how they were going to be treated by police and other public officials.
In other words, black people were treated by the law as an inferior sub-species in some places. That was evil. It took courage to stand up to that. It took foresight to believe it could change. King was among the foremost leaders of those who fought that. He argued for equality under law and he looked forward to the day when human beings could be judged by the “content of their character,” not by their skin color.
It’s hard for me to see how anyone could oppose that, but many people fought against it in the ’50s and ’60s. It was a moral failure on the part of many white people who had been raised to believe blacks were inferior to them. Fortunately, there aren’t many left who believe that.
King’s birthday was made a holiday to celebrate what his life stood for, but anyone who thinks it was all about commemorating the Civil Rights Movement and its assassinated leader is very naive. This holiday is a political symbol for what progressives want today, not fixing the demonstrable evils that King fought against.
You’d have to be a racist to oppose the basic ideas and goals that King talked about, but the people who claim his legacy use the day to push something else. From the beginning, it’s been about the agenda of the Democratic Party, even though there’s surface-level acknowledgment of King and his original goals. Today’s Democrats — mostly black Democrats — use it to push their own political power and agendas.
And that’s why I don’t support or celebrate the holiday. I don’t mind acknowledging the courageous role played by King in leading blacks to stand up against what white politicians (and their enablers in the voting public) were doing to them. I’m not going to be part of something that’s being used for something much different than honoring that.
Some Republicans have tried to “rehabilitate” the holiday by talking about King’s goals and trying to show how their agenda is more aligned with what King’s was. I’m not especially interested in being part of such arguments. (I’m also not interested in the sideshow issues of King’s alleged affairs or his documented plagiarism or apparently socialist economic views.)
I’d rather just acknowledge that what King accomplished in fighting an evil and racist political establishment was great, but what his followers have done in his name since then is nakedly political and partisan.
I admire much of what King did in his life. He was courageous, visionary and inspirational. But I won’t be a part of what some people are doing in his name today.
That’s why I’m ignoring the holiday. I suspect that there are a lot of people who feel the same way.