Friday, January 13, 2012

Someone recently said to me that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t deserve a holiday in his honor.  They decried the fact that the presidents had to have their birthdays on the same day, (Washington and Lincoln), and that other presidents deserved a holiday more than King. Plus King’s got a street named after him in every city, doesn’t he? You’d think that would be enough.

I have heard other people say this, but I have gone along innocently thinking that by and large Martin Luther King Jr. was revered universally for his work. But I am disillusioned.

My response was that he certainly deserved a holiday, that I wish I had a flag I could fly to celebrate it, like those who celebrate war by flying their flags prominently on their front porches. “He was a saint,” I said.
I told them “Martin Luther King Jr. ended slavery, without violence, and he gave his life for his country.” Which of course was instantly refuted, because of course it was Lincoln who ended slavery in America with his Emancipation Proclamation.

And yes, Lincoln ended slavery. The first time. And Martin Luther King Jr. ended it the second time.
From 1890 through 1940, with Jim Crows laws, we as a nation reinstituted slavery by another name: segregation. We all know now that segregation was wrong, just like the two three presidents named above knew that slavery was wrong, yet they still owned slaves or supported slavery in some places. There is a book called Slavery By Another Name  by Douglas A. Blackmon which I highly recommend, if you are curious about this part of our national history.
And it took a second revolution, lead by Martin Luther King Jr., aided by presidents Kennedy and Johnson, to end the second slavery with The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Slavery is illegal, but racism is far from ended in our country.

Now, I know that Martin Luther King Jr. was not a saint in his personal life. He was a man, like any man, who had his demons and made his share of mistakes. He learned though, and applied the principles of the teachings of Jesus and of Gandhi and others to end a wrong which the nation needed to end, though most did not want to. He was vilified for opposing the Vietnam War, and he was murdered for his beliefs.
So he was saint enough for me, and I gladly attend celebrations of his life in late January every year, and I also I celebrate Washington and Lincoln, who also each made enormous personal sacrifices for all of us. I hope you will join me in celebrating this great American.

For all of us, and particularly those of us who are white, while we still are in the majority in America, it is our moral imperative to stand up to racism when we see it, name it when we hear it, and vote against it when we see it running for office.

The new slavery is the current backlash against Hispanic people. I have heard many good people complain about “those people” taking “our” jobs, using up “our” health care resources, “our” natural resources, infiltrating “our” culture with their nasty foreign habits and  their foul language and godless religions, while we literally eat the fruits of their labors, enjoying low priced farm products, and allow illegal immigrants to clean our homes while supporting legislation to marginalize their rights as human beings.

I’ve heard good people, Christian people, hold that “they” are not as good as us: “we don’t want them mingling with our kids in schools, do we”. (This is the same thing I heard about black people in South Carolina in 1967, spoken by the same kind of upstanding Christian citizens.)  

“Go to any emergency room,” I have heard people say, “and it is crowded with those dirty people, looking for free health care, while we have to pay for it.” I know building owners who will not rent to people who cannot speak English without an accent.

But George Washington had an accent. He and Thomas Jefferson both spoke with a British accent. Lafayette spoke with an accent. The Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers were foreigners, immigrants who spoke with an accent. How would we receive them today?

Racism is alive and well in America today. When you hear it, name it; when you see it, stand up against it.

I wish you all a grateful and glad Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year.

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