Monday, January 21, 2013
Today, we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta Georgia on January 15, 1929, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. In spite of school segregation, he was a good student, graduated from Morehouse College like his father and grandfather before him and went on to study for the ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he distinguished himself as a leader (winning election as president of the predominantly white class). After receiving his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer, he was awarded a fellowship and continued on to complete a doctoral program at Boston University, where he earned the title of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1955. In Boston, Dr. King met his wife, the accomplished and intelligent Coretta Scott King with whom he had a family of four children.
Rosa Parks defied the segregationist Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Dr. King led the year-long bus boycott which led to the eventual Supreme Court ruling that the laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Movement had arrived at its moment in history at last and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had emerged as its leader.
In spite of his determination to lead a peaceful revolution for civil rights, Dr. King was the target of unceasing attacks during his years in the public eye. He was arrested more than twenty times, was assaulted numerous times and was under constant threats of violence and verbal attacks. During the bus boycott, his house was bombed as those who resisted equal rights for people of color demonstrated their utter lack of respect for the lives of Dr. King and his wife and children. In spite of these terrible dangers, Dr. King persisted in the march toward justice, with the blessing and support of his wife and family.
Dr. King was the right leader for the right time as a movement that had been simmering - a yearning for the true liberty and dignity of full equality - finally came to a boil. Marrying his interpretation of Christian theology with the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King's ideal truly represented a revolutionary new way of bringing about peaceful social change which he believed could strengthen, not unravel, the fabric of society. In 1964, at only age 35, he was recognized for his courageous and enlightened leadership with the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the more than $50,000 prize award to the Civil Rights cause.
In early April, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend moral support to black workers who were striking to protest the egregious inequities of their treatment and compensation compared to white workers. King's arrival in Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat to his plane but he managed to get there, march with the sanitation workers and speak at rallies. On the last night of his life, at a rally at the Mason Temple in Memphis, he referred to the intimidation and threats of violence that had dogged him for years. In what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, King had this to say to his listeners:
"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Martin Luther King, Jr. was brutally taken from this world on April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. He was shot to death by a white supremacist sniper as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.
You can find an excellent, brief (4 minutes) biography of Dr. King here.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963. (full text)
Recommended reading: Good and Evil in Birmingham, Diane McWhorter,The New York Times, January 20, 2013. McWhorter argues, rightly I think, that the battle of the Civil Rights movement was not between "good" and "evil", but between "good" and "normal".
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Yesterday, September 22, was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
A turning point for freedom in America, 150 years later, Donna Brazile, CNN, September 22, 2012.
This fall, the descendants of slaves, millions of ethnic and religious minorities from other lands, African-Americans and immigrants -- Latinos, Asians, Europeans -- and women, as well as working- and middle-class Americans, will decide whether to claim their future. We are all in this together.
All Americans will have a chance to move Lincoln's vision forward to help close the opportunity gap, to end the economic inequality resulting from government policies that favor a handful over the many who work equally hard. Abraham Lincoln would be proud to see the progress we have made. But he also would understand that there is still more work to do. Together.
President Obama's Emancipation Proclamation, Ray Errol Fox and Jacopo della Quercia, Huffington Post, September 22, 2012.
Not for the first time in our nation's fractious history of presidential elections, we are debating what it means to be free in The United States of America. Not for the first time, a U.S. President is arguably staking his mandate to lead the country on the body politic interpretation of the freedom of the individual. And, not for the first time, but presumably for the last time, "We the People" are coming to grips with Thomas Jefferson's seemingly unassailable dictum that "all men are created equal."
By becoming the first U.S. President to come out in support of same-sex marriage, President Obama has boldly illuminated bone-deep and often ugly differences of opinion dividing Americans, and exposed them to open civil discussion. Comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and his stand on slavery a century and a half ago are ample and inescapable.
Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, and the course of US History, Stanley Harrold, The Times and Democrat, September 22, 2012.
Critics at the time and since have pointed out that the Final Proclamation did not affect slavery in the border slave states, or in portions of the Confederacy occupied by Union troops. Yet, with the Final Proclamation, slavery could not survive in the Border South. More important, from Jan. 1, 1863, onward, Northern troops fought for black freedom as well as preservation of the Union. Slaves became free immediately as Union armies advanced into Confederate territory. The war to restore the Union as it had been before December 1860 ended on Jan. 1, 1863. An old U.S. Constitution that recognized slavery died; a new Constitution that recognized black freedom stirred to life. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments formalized this change. Black freedom suffered a terrible setback as Reconstruction ended in failure. It took the mid-20th-century’s civil rights movement to revive that freedom and extend it.
Still, without the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the path to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 may have been much different and more difficult.
Lincoln's Great Gamble, Richard Striner, New York Times Opinionator, September 21, 2012.
Lincoln’s gamble was dangerous indeed. But he did what he believed he had to do. It was not, in the end, a political calculation. According to the diary of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Lincoln told his cabinet on Sept. 22 he had made a promise to God. “He had made a vow, a covenant,” Welles recounted, “that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would . . . move forward in the cause of emancipation.”
And so the stakes of the war would be raised to a level commensurate with all of the carnage and all of the sacrifice. The meaning of the war would be changed — forever changed — by Lincoln’s proclamation.
Freedom and Restraint, John Fabian Witt, The Opinion Pages, New York Times, September 21, 2012.
The pocket-size pamphlet quickly became the blueprint for a new generation of treaties, up to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Strong nations like Prussia and France had long suspected that law-of-war initiatives were little more than maneuvering by weaker countries and closet pacifists hoping to make war more difficult. Lincoln’s code broke that diplomatic logjam: It contained no hidden European agenda, and no one could accuse the Lincoln administration of trying to hold back strong armies.