A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
So "in the moment" do we live today that I believe we have all but forgotten 9-11, though the smouldering ruins of the towers lie not even eight years in our collective rear view mirror.
It is little wonder then that we have forgotten what I believe to be the primary legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Perhaps it is the progress made that has caused this to blur in the mirrors of our memory. Certainly issues remain, but progress is undeniable. Perhaps the truest measure of this is that we have forgotten certain things. We have forgotten the palpable evil of Bull Connor, a figure so grotesque he appears now as almost a comic book caricature, rather than a hate-filled sociopath. We forget the intrepid heroism of Rosa Parks, and how NECESSARY her heroism was. And as we see the almost mythical proportions of stature attained by Tiger Woods and LeBron James, we forget that their way was paved by Jackie Robinson, and the crucible of racial torment endured by African-American stars like Hank Aaron and Oscar Robertson. We have forgotten just how ugly the past was.
I don't suggest Dr. King is forgotten. But I believe we have forgotten the CORE of his message. We have misplaced it with "comfort words" like tolerance and peace. These are fine words, but I do not believe they contain the primacy of what he sought and how he lived.
I believe the glory of his message and the nobility of his life can be captured in a quote from his epochal Washington DC speech. "I have a dream - that one day my children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character". King backed these words with the consistent quality of his actions, never hesitating to accept danger, deprivation, and even imprisonment for his beliefs. THAT to me, is the heart of his legacy. Since those words were spoken, we have watched his dream usurped and perverted by four decades of corrupt civil rights "leaders" like Jesse Jackson, while at the same time, more legitimate African-American voices like Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, and Juan Williams have been subjected to all the self-righteous fury the elitist maw could summon. And plenty of white pundits and politicos have shamelessly gone to the well of King's soaring prose, only to suit their own dubious purposes.
Somewhere in the mid-twentieth century, America began to replace the notion of "personal character" with the mantra of "personality". While this had many causes, I believe there were two primary ones. First, a tsunami of affluence unprecedented in human history loosened our grip on the old truths, and our tread upon the "ancient paths". And simultaneous to this explosion of wealth, came the establishment on our University campuses of Euro-Centric philosophies, the lynch pin of which was moral relativism. They stand there today all but cemented in place.
I remember giving my father's eulogy, at one point during which I acknowledged he never possessed a notably strong "personality". That was because my Dad was more interested in exhibiting CHARACTER than he was in emoting PERSONALITY, a lesson and example his five children still struggle to equal. My Dad was raised in agrarian, pre-World War Two, pre-Civil Rights America; middle class and white. But King's message of character, comittment, and the God-invested dignity of every human being, inherently resonated with him. THOSE were the reasons my Dad regarded King as a great man.
The best way I know of today to honor Dr. King is to give some thought to the immortal words of his speech. Let's tell our kids and grand-kids that our dream for them is the same as King's was for his children. And let's tell them about this noble man, who calmly and quietly wove his principles into the fabric of his life, until there was no visible seam between the two. Let's tell them it's more important to live rightly than to live comfortably.
The ability to do this lies within OURSELVES, not Washington D.C. or Madison.
Dr. King spent, and ultimatly gave his life trying to show us how.