Skip to comments.When Did Martin Luther King Become The Most Important Person In American History?
Posted on 01/20/2003 6:40:40 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
Asking is akin to blasphemy? Actually it's worse than that. Posing the question might draw more serious condemnation than standing on the steps of the Vatican and screaming, "There is no G-d!!" Come to mention it, it is far more likely and acceptable for someone to critically examine the Pope, Jesus and the Almighty himself than Martin Luther King. Considering he was a Christian leader, as well as a civil rights leader, he certainly would think this odd.
Wondering aloud about such things makes me a bona fide racist in some eyes. Not at all surprising in a paradoxical, political environment where disagreeing with judging people based on skin color, euphemistically called "affirmative action", somehow makes one a racist. On the contrary, my respect for Mr. King is far purer than that alleged by people who have appropriated and distorted his legacy of race neutrality to justify exactly the opposite. The hysterical or, more likely, calculated reactions aside, these musings in no way should be construed as questioning the correctness of honoring the man. I believe him to be one of the most praiseworthy figures of the 20th century and indeed he should be recognized amongst the greatest Americans in our nation's history. But the question that I have is, at what point, and by what justification did he become THE most important figure in our history?
The fact that this is the position that King now occupies is not really arguable. Surely historians would have something to say about it, but if public remembrances and general reverence are at all indicators, and they're the only meaningful indicators, the debate has been settled. To see this, all we need do is open our eyes and uncover our ears. The observances of his birthday are all encompassing. Businesses, churches, the media and state, federal and local government institutions pause in unison and reflect. Public officials, led by the president, make obligatory statements and attend celebrations in his honor. And perhaps most important to the nation's attitudes, now and in years to come, the education system, private and public, makes a concerted effort to see to it that our youth understands who King was and what he has meant to this country. The same can be said about no one else in our history.
His birthday being a national holiday officially verifies Martin Luther King's historical preeminence. He is the one and only "American" deemed to be deserving of an official day of remembrance. Christopher Columbus still has a federal holiday bearing his name, but with the exception of it being a paid day off, it's largely ignored. As political correctness creeps ever forward and his image increasingly becomes that merely of the commander in the first way of European invaders to the "New World", the future of Columbus Day looks bleak. He was not an American in any event. Though his importance in shaping the modern world was immeasurable, his role in birth of The United States and in forming the democratic principles that guide us is nonexistent.
Oh, we do have President's Day, but it is likewise remembered as a day off to the few people that get it, rather than anything used as an educational opportunity or deserving of ceremony. Actually the third Monday in February officially remains Washington's Birthday according to section 6103(a), title 5 of the United States Code. But since a proclamation by President Richard Nixon in 1971 it has, in effect, been a day to commemorate all past presidents. So we now have a day set aside to honor Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter along with Washington and Lincoln.
Martin Luther King as an image of courage and nobility in the face of hate should never be undervalued. He was steadfast in his nonviolence and eloquence, even as more radical factions in the civil rights movement began to dismiss him. King's assassination canonized him just as Mao-inspired fanatics, and other violent militants, threatened to take control. But he was not the only believer in nonviolence, and despite his charisma, the ultimate victory in the struggle for civil rights is conceivable without him.
It is far less likely that the Civil War would have come about or ended as it did without Abraham Lincoln. It was mainly due to his strength of will and moral convictions that the war evolved from a secession and state's rights conflict to one of a crusade against slavery. Strangely enough, it is many who benefited the most from Lincoln's leadership that have attempted to discard his attitudes and actions. But what can't be denied is that in a time of unimaginable bloodshed and with the Union faltering he rebuilt the moral underpinnings of the war effort. Though the Emancipation Proclamation freed not a single slave, making it changed the course of the nation. And it made Martin Luther King, as we know him, possible. King paid homage to this in the first lines of his "I have a dream speech",
"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity."
Just as Lincoln made King possible, so too did George Washington make Lincoln possible. It is all but unimaginable that the War of Independence could have been won, the constitution could have been ratified, or that the presidency would have evolved as it has without him. And here again King's victories centuries later would not have come to pass. Washington's image has suffered greatly by a recent focus solely on the fact that he was a slaveholder. No one should be above scrutiny, but Washington was no lover of slavery and expressed his wish to have "a plan adopted for the abolition" of the institution.
No less a liberal outlet than PBS recognizes this:
"He possessed and displayed in his life courage, self-control, justice, judgment and an array of other virtues in such full harmony and to such a degree, and he surmounted such great challenges in so many circumstances of war and peace, that to see how he lived his life is to see much more vividly what it means to be a man. This is by no means to say that he was flawless any more than Babe Ruth was a perfect baseball player. It is merely to say that, if he had not lived, such greatness could hardly have been believed possible." And had Washington not lived the greatness of King could hardly have been believed possible.
I don't doubt for a moment that Martin Luther King is deserving of a place of honor in our history. But he is by no means the only or most deserving. There are others that could easily be named from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin and beyond whose shoulders King stood upon to accomplish what he did. And dismissing these men does a disservice to them, to this nation, to our children, and to King as well.
My child is in second grade, and is being told that MLK is the greatest man who ever lived in this country.She has no idea who Abe Lincoln was.She was taught that George Washington was greedy, and that all whites are greedy
We had a wonderfull talk about how white and black and red people used to treat each other back in the old days, and how Lincoln and MLK just wanted us to treat each other based on how we acted, not by the color of our skins.
The ongoing pittfalls of trying to raise my child color-blind, as MLK rightly advocated,and avoiding the "white guilt" the current batch of race-baiting media whores and liberal history revisionists tout as truth, while teaching her to respect her Sioux ancestry is starting to make my head spin.
That said, I agree with the author. MLK was certainly an enigma and true folk hero of the 20th century, and not just to blacks.
And that said, I can with little effort point out many other great Americans who are equally or more deserving of a national holiday. Teddy Roosevelt springs to mind, as does George Washington Carver. Carver arguably did more for American blacks than MLK. Thoughts?
The biggest mark for him was that he did stick to non-violence, helping produced a relatively non-violent end to segregation. Something that today's protester's have no clue about -- for some reason they think that a broken window, lots of profanity, and even some nudity will persuade others of the rightness of their cause. The "I Have A Dream" March would look very different if it occurred today.
Can we call it even?
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