Kai Wright, of The Nation examines the claims of Glenn Beck and other revisionists who wrap themselves in the mantle of the civil rights movement…
There are many things about King’s dream speech that Beck won’t likely point out at this weekend’s gathering. Perhaps top among them: the 1963 March on Washington was the work of a war-resisting labor organizer, A. Philip Randolph, and an openly gay man, Bayard Rustin, who was himself a war-resisting socialist.
The event’s actual name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That moniker was a compromise between King, who wanted a more focused event, and Randolph, who helped broker the broad constituency that made the march the largest peacetime gathering in the nation’s history at the time. King’s iconic speech reflected the event’s dual focus on economic and political justice–and it included much, much more than a call to judge people by their character.
Why is Glenn Beck aligning himself with a man who ‘palled around’ with socialists and homosexuals and union organizers? Why is he claiming to carry on the spirit of a movement that drew federal troops to enforce de-segregation of schools? Why is he quoting a man who did, indeed, call for re-distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor as a Christian practice and a matter of basic justice?
Because Martin Luther King was on the right side of history. Because he was an American hero. And because America has a short memory and prefers saints and martyrs over real human beings with doubts and flaws. It takes effort to read through Dr.King’s speeches or read his biography. It takes effort to learn about the many brave people of all races who worked with Dr.King, among them, Prof. Bernard Lafayette who taught nonvioence at URI..
When Dr. King was assassinated he was working for economic justice. Far from being revered, he faced brutal criticism from both white conservatives and black radicals who thought he made too many compromises.
Dr. King was murdered in Tennessee where he had gone to support a sanitation worker’s strike…
In the later 1960s, the targets of King’s activism were less often the legal and political obstacles to the exercise of civil rights by blacks, and more often the underlying poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and blocked avenues of economic opportunity confronting black Americans. Despite increasing militancy in the movement for black power, King steadfastly adhered to the principles of nonviolence that had been the foundation of his career. Those principles were put to a severe test in his support of a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. This was King’s final campaign before his death.
During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers had been crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day in a separate incident also related to the inclement weather, 22 black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay. About two weeks later, on February 12, more than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition.
Dr. King called on us to open our eyes and see the injustices inflicted every day, and work to remedy them. His vision of America was one of justice and equal opportunity. He knew that removing the color bar was a beginning, not an end.
When so many politicians and entertainers claim to be speaking for God, it’s not such a surprise that some will claim to speak for leaders who are no longer here to contradict them. Dr. King’s words are on the record. They are pure gold. Compare and contrast and don’t settle for counterfeit.
EVANGELICAL VOICE: Reverend Jim Wallis also does a compare and contrast. He recalls Dr. King’s message of social justice.