Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King: The Dream Betrayed

I’m old enough that I remember Martin Luther King. I read about him in the newspapers. I saw him on television. I heard his “Dream” speech. I wept when he was murdered.
I have no patience for those who claim that America is just as racist as it was in years gone by. I remember those days. I remember federal troops in Little Rock. I remember Gov. George Wallace blocking the school door. I remember Sheriff “Bull” Conner and the fire hoses being turned on marchers in Birmingham. I remember the Freedom Riders. I remember separate drinking fountains and “white only” signs. I remember the fear. I remember the hate.

But mostly, I remember the sound of a Georgia preacher’s voice calling out. I remember him calling out, not just to his followers, but to his enemies as well. He told us that we were better men and women and that hate and fear shouldn’t divide us. He reminded is that we were all one people, regardless of skin color or religion. He didn’t defeat his enemies; he converted them.

That voice was heard. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land with the support of more than 80% of the Republicans in Congress and slightly more than 60% of the Democrats (among those opposing the measure were Klansman Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Al Gore’s late father who was a senator from Tennessee).

Those were heady days. Then the dream started to sour. Government programs aimed at aiding African Americans ended up causing mortal harm. The welfare structure effectively destroyed the black family. Other programs, such as affirmative action, conveyed the message to both African Americans and others that blacks were incapable of competing. Some claimed it was needed to fight vestiges of racism against minorities, while completely ignoring the success of Asian Americans, some of whom in modern times faced incarceration solely based on their ethnicity.

Whatever the intent, the effect was to make African Americans dependent upon government largess and intervention rather than encouraging their own genius.
What was perhaps even worse were Dr. King’s successors. They stood in the footsteps of a giant and were found wanting. His inheritors stood at the threshold of greatness … and stepped back.

Instead of following Dr. King’s message of inclusion, they preached a message of separation and divisiveness. Instead of finding strength in self and family, they found dependence upon the government.

Some of their leaders, specifically Jessie Jackson, Cynthia McKinney and Al Sharpton, have preached a strong message of anti-Semitism. Many leaders have refused to denounce or even distance themselves from such vile demagogues as Louis Farrakhan.

As a nation, we honor Martin Luther King. His spirit soars in the heavens with angels, while many of his successors slither in the mud with an entirely different creature.