What Do We Honor When We Honor Martin Luther King? (And Who Are “We”?)

When President Bush went to Atlanta last week to lay a wreath on Martin Luther King’s grave, he was greeted with demonstrations and howls of protest. “One protester,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “held a sign that read ‘Bush — Zionist Puppet and liar.'”

Similarly, as InstaPundit has noted, Howard Dean was greeted with similar jeers when he appeared at a memorial service for Dr. King in Des Moines. One of the organizers of that service was quoted as saying “[t]his was nothing but a conniving way for him to sneak in and take up [sic?] a vote from the African-American community.”

This objection echoed a complaint of one of the organizers of the Atlanta protest of the president’s visit, Rev. Tim McDonald, who “accused Bush, who won just 9 percent of the African-American vote in the 2000 election, of being motivated more by politics than by any admiration for King.”

King, I strongly suspect, would have looked with favor upon white politicians, of both parties, seeking black votes. But not his most vociferous heirs.

These protesters imply that King’s legacy is their private property, which they have posted with “No Trespassing” signs at every entrance. If this is their attitude, perhaps they should reconsider the wisdom of making King’s birthday a national holiday. Or, failing that but perhaps more in keeping with the race preferences they now demand in King’s name, maybe they should consider urging the president to issue an executive order proclaiming that, since only blacks are welcome to honor Dr. King, the King holiday in the future will be limited to blacks. Everyone else should report to work as usual.

Say What? (4)

  1. Dr. Kristina Watkins Mormino January 26, 2004 at 4:26 pm | | Reply

    You seem to be under the impression that the protesters are a homogenoeous group, and you imply that they are Black. I was present at the Atlanta protest, and I can assure you that, despite what much of the media has suggested, the protesters were racially mixed. (Although reports, based on the AP article, have characterized the crowd as predominantly Black, a glance at the photos of the event belies this assertion.) Moreover, there was no animosity against non-White protesters by African Americans. All protesters made the point that Bush’s policies are incongruent with his feigned reverence towards Martin Luther King, Jr. For argument’s sake I’ll admit the possibility that one can disagree with another’s ideals while still honoring the person. However, it is not too hard to document that King championed peace and the poor, and that Bush has championed war and the wealthy. It is also clear that non-violent dissent, the chief tool of Dr. King, has been suppressed under this administration. Even at the protest in Atlanta, the secret service attempted to restrict protesters to a “Free Speech Zone” out of sight of the president’s motorcade and accompanying press, but we were able to take up more visible postitions when the Atlanta police chose not to enforce the restriction. In short, you are frankly wrong if you think that hundreds of demonstrators protested that cold afternoon just to mark King’s legacy as off-limits to Whites.

  2. John Rosenberg January 26, 2004 at 6:35 pm | | Reply

    You make a fair point. Perhaps I should have said that the protesters intent, or in any event their effect, was to exclude everyone from honoring Dr. King who did not agree with the politics of the protesters. This would exclude, of course, all those who believe the principle he articulated in his “I Have a Dream” speech upheld a colorblind ideal. (I am aware, of course, of the argument that “if Dr. King were alive today” he would be an ardent supporter of affirmative action, and that argument may well be persuasive. But, even if true, that doesn’t undermine or demean the colorblind principle as articulated in the speech. Thomas Jefferson had slaves, after all. That doesn’t mean we can’t honor the principle that all men are created equal.)

  3. Hijacking A Civil Rights Hero January 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

    […] of “If King were alive today….” I replied to this argument at some length here: In a recent post discussing some of the fallout from Martin Luther King’s birthday, I asked “What Do We Honor […]

  4. Martin Luther King Day, Redux January 16, 2018 at 11:06 am |

    […] the years I’ve asked several times variations of the same question, such as “What Do We Honor When We Honor Martin Luther King (And Who Are ‘We?’).” I wrote there that protesters had objected to President Bush laying a wreath on King’s grave, […]

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