On the occasion of MLK Day here in the USA, I repost a little something I wrote back in 2014--seems like a hundred years ago. A few minor edits, nothing major.
January 21, 2014
The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day in the US; the TV and other media were full of stories about King and his times, and what it all means today. He has been compared to Gandhi and Mandela, become an icon for American "progressives," and, of course, a historical symbol of the nonviolent civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, almost every major American city has a thoroughfare named for him, and, as noted, we have a national holiday in his honor--making him and Columbus the only ones to have such holidays. Gunned down in 1968, at the age of thirty-nine, he left the civil rights movement to less capable and less visionary successors who undermined his legacy and his goal of a color-blind nation.
Was he a great man?
He showed great
courage, commitment to his cause, insistence on nonviolence, strong
political and leadership skills, patriotism, and became a highly
eloquent spokesman for civil rights. "I Have a Dream" is one of the
great speeches in the English language. King's "Letter from a Birmingham
Jail" more than equals any Thoreau or Gandhi writings, and is not
something that today's civil rights leaders, such as they are, could
match, nor could the typical graduate of almost any university in the
world today. (The letter's pacing, erudition, and, above all, the
surgical preciseness with which it takes down opposing arguments bring
to mind General Sherman's letter to the Mayor of Atlanta.) King's life
made a difference to millions of people. The answer, therefore, to this
paragraph's question is yes, he was a great man.
That said, serious problems exist with some of the narrative spun about King, in particular, and the civil rights struggle, in general. Part of the problem, of course, is that King died young, enabling others, as happened with the two Kennedy brothers, to fill in the rest of the story and use it to further certain political agendas. King died short of his fortieth birthday; had he lived longer, presumably he would have evolved and, possibly, become a very different man than he was when he died--we will never know. What we do know is that the Democratic Party and their "progressive" media and education machines have rewritten the history of the civil rights struggle. This was driven home to me some years ago while visiting a college campus. The students assumed King was a Democrat, and the segregationists confronting the peaceful marchers, and using fire hoses, snarling police dogs, and truncheons, and wearing white hoods were Republicans. They assumed a Republican killed King--today's college kids probably believe the Tea Party had him killed. That the exact opposite is true, shocks many. King came from a staunchly Republican family--his father, a prominent rights leader in his own right--endorsed Richard Nixon against JFK in the 1960 presidential election. The Democrats had a one-party lock on the South. The party of slave owners and secessionists, had become the party of Jim Crow, school segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, poll taxes, and on and on.
Many Americans, not to mention foreigners, do not realize not only that the Republican party formed in opposition to slavery and that Lincoln was a Republican, but that famous Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose rulings dismantled the legal basis for segregation and put serious limits on the power of police, was a former Republican Governor of California. It was, furthermore, war hero and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who sent troops to Arkansas to enforce court-ordered desegregation at Little Rock Central High School. Congressional Republicans were the main supporters of civil rights legislation; their votes ensured passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, over the opposition of a significant bloc of Democrats--let us also not forget that Congressional Democrats for years blocked Republican efforts to pass federal anti-lynching legislation. All this, of course, is history, but an important chunk of American history that is being lost, distorted, or otherwise flushed down the memory sewer--along with the fact that anti-leftist J. Edgar Hoover proved the most formidable foe of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), an organization founded and staffed by Democrats, such as long-time Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.
Before I return to King, let me address another issue that has been badly distorted and become something of a meme among the quasi-literate left. I refer to the idea that the parties "switched places." This is something I have heard from some lefties who, knowing the true history of the Democratic and Republican Parties when it comes to race and civil rights, try to argue that that was then, and this is now. Since FDR, or so, they argue the parties "switched" places on the race issue, with Republicans taking the role of protecting white privilege and keeping minorities, especially blacks, down. The truth is quite different. What happened was that the old party of slavers, segregationists, lynch mobs, and secessionists figured out that government programs and intervention would serve to deprive Republicans of a significant voter bloc. They aimed to keep black Americans dependent on the largess of government and Democrat-run urban political machines. Anyone who doubts that should read the crude comment in which President Johnson revealed the real purpose underlying his massive social program expansion, i.e., to keep black Americans voting Democratic. The Democrats succeeded in this objective.
Back to King and the civil rights movement. By the time of his death, King was losing control of the movement. It was fragmenting. King's vision of a nonviolent effort had come under assault by radical elements. The messages of non-violence and a concentration on individual liberty were losing traction. The thirty-nine-year-old King seemed old, thundering out a message from another time. A new generation of black activists, inspired by the increasingly confrontational and violent atmosphere in the country, challenged King for the spotlight, and found allies in violence in the largely white anti-Vietnam War movement. The civil rights struggle increasingly became part of the noise of the very bad closing years of the 1960s, years which saw bloody race riots shake nearly every major American city, and numerous acts of domestic terrorism. In addition, what had been a largely grass-roots, private sector movement was being sabotaged by growing government involvement. Many black leaders got siphoned off by government programs to "fight poverty." Activists increasingly focused on getting handouts to their followers rather than, as noted above, on King's more lofty, ancient-sounding focus on liberty, and the goal of having people judged not by their color but by the "content of their character." This new generation of government-oriented and dependent leaders did not fit in with King's conservative, Southern, church-based movement. They wanted racial turmoil, not racial harmony. We need also remember that Attorney General Robert Kennedy had King under FBI surveillance, including the making of compromising tapes of King's extra-marital liaisons, providing the government excellent blackmail material against him.
All these factors, in my view, had begun to take a toll on King; he aged dramatically in appearance, and started talking about issues not directly related to the civil rights struggle, e.g., the Middle East, Vietnam. Had he lived longer, we likely would have seen King becoming radicalized, pushed leftward as he sought to retain control of the movement--but, as noted before, we will never know.
In sum, he was a great man with a great vision. His successors, many of them frauds of the first rank, largely have not been faithful to that vision of liberty and color-blindness, and we all have suffered for it.