Inauguration week civics lesson

From Martin Luther King Jr. to his followers in Congress, the rights movement has changed.

In a providential alignment of historic dates on the national calendar, Monday of ‘Inauguration Week’ was the annual celebration of the great civil rights leader Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., news reports circulated that early civil rights activist and now senior Representative John Lewis and a growing company of protesters would not attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, which shared attention with reports that a Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration would bring hundreds of thousands of protesters to DC to repudiate the new president and what they expected would be the damage wrought by his perceived policies.

Dr. Martin Luther King delivered one of his lesser known talks, ‘Our God Is Marching On’, in 1965 to encourage engagement in public policy and the political process, with a timeless message.

Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes until all…God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor…

And yet, this week is a snapshot in a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ look at the setbacks King’s aspirations have suffered in the modern day splintering of the movement into diverse ‘rights’ groups, many based on identity with redefined terms and redirected energies.

Here’s one, based on the new activism of Congressman John Lewis against President-elect Trump, with Lewis leading a boycott of the inauguration by members of Congress who don’t see the incoming president as ‘legitimate’.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Tuesday accused Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) of resting on his status as a civil rights icon, arguing he has done little in Congress.

“I have long contemplated the idea of just going to the [House] floor and saying, ‘John Lewis, thank you for your contribution to civil rights during the Civil Rights era. I would appreciate it if you would contribute something since then…

King also criticized Lewis and other Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members for sharpening divisions in Congress.

“When they formed the Congressional Black Caucus back years ago in the aftermath of or in the immediate beginning of the civil rights movement, the shape of that, I looked at it even then and said, ‘How can you form a caucus that’s established on race?’” he asked. “And now, the Congressional Black Caucus, I just openly say it – they’re the self-segregating caucus.”

“I mean, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. – as [this week] we celebrated his birthday – wasn’t about segregation, it was about de-segregation,” King added, citing Monday’s holiday for the civil rights leader.

“But now, they self-segregate and use the vehicle created as the self-segregating caucus in order to advance a leftist political agenda that is not at all reflective of Martin Luther King [Jr.’s] memory.”

This is all a shame. Dr. King and his family who continue his work today have long referred to ‘the Beloved Community’ based on ‘love and mercy, peace and brotherhood, decency and honor’. That’s pretty much gone in this post-election transition time, as it was through the campaign and election season.

And about “God’s children”, not only does this week fall within a week of the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court law legalizing abortion on demand – which King’s niece Alveda never stops reminding the country is the new civil rights movement – this year the annual March for Life in DC is preceded by a Women’s March on Washington to protest the presidency of Donald Trump and the perceived harm his administration will do to women’s rights.

But can’t they walk together, as Dr. King asked in his day, especially of fellow clergy in Letter from Birmingham Jail? Isn’t there some common ground?

The stated goal of the March for Life is “a world where every human life is valued and protected.

The vision statement…of the Women’s March pledges a commitment to nonviolent solutions, noting that there is “no true peace without justice and equity for all.

Furthermore, even though the women who are organizing the Women’s March had only two months to put their event together, they have created a diverse, enthusiastic and eager community.

Since those words were written in that article, the women planning this event narrowed their community to those who shared the core belief in abortion as a woman’s right. So the Women’s March grew less diverse, when organizers disinvited New Wave Feminists and other pro-life organizations. Though some enthusiastic and eager pro-life women plan to go anyway.

But that’s January 21st, a full news day away from all the planned protests in DC of the inauguration, the parade and celebrations scheduled for those historic events. If only those who celebrate King’s legacy actually tried to live it, we would have more decency and honor.

Nat Hentoff, civil libertarian, human rights champion, passes on

The practically peerless legend leaves his great defense of life to others. What a challenge.

Great human rights activists tend to know each other. Wednesday, Wesley J. Smith joined me on radio to talk about life, Nat Hentoff, and Wesley’s tribute in National Review Online last weekend.

We have lost a great writer, civil libertarian, free speech absolutist, jazz historian, and pro-life advocate, Nat Hentoff, who died today at 91.

As an atheist, Nat took much heat from his fellow liberals and rigid fundamentalists among the “free thinking” crowd for standing against abortion, euthanasia, and opposing protocols that would leave babies with spina bifida and other disabilities to die without attempts at curative treatment.

The conversation was both joyful and a little sad, because Wesley was one of many who knew Hentoff as an original and one of a kind, who has no immediate, obvious successor with his pure brand of civil engagement and reasoned, clear thinking.

At the end of that tribute, I noted with some sadness, Wesley wrote “We will not see his like again.”

He called Hentoff “a superb writer and first class public intellectual…a man of consistent, steadfast principle, a moral purist in an age of hand-wringing accommodationists. This unyielding consistency has made him an iconoclast’s iconoclast.” In fact, Wesley noted, Hentoff described himself as “a Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer.”

One could disagree with Hentoff’s politics but appreciate his sincere humanitarian principles, we both admitted. Wesley’s tribute noted that ‘his style was as individualistic as were his principles. In an age of shouters, he was quiet. In an era of facile talking heads, he remained profound. Where others agitate and self-aggrandize, he relied on steadfast cogent argument to persuade. Where contemporary pundits often tailor their views to cater to the powerful or popular, Hentoff courageously remained a challenger of orthodoxies.

Hentoff’s advocacy cut a wide swath across what are often called ‘the life issues.’ Indeed, his unyielding stand over many years against abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, unethical human medical experimentation, and the ongoing bioethical construction of a “duty to die” has made him a moral beacon for those who believe that universal human liberty depends on society’s embrace of the intrinsic equality of all human life. And for decades he…connected the dots for his vast audience, expertly charting the consequences of our steady, but. not always slow, slide down the slippery slope toward a veritable culture of death.

NRO ran this piece the next day, by Jack Fowler, who also knew Hentoff and called him “a unique advocate for the humanity of the unborn child.”

He was also a champion of free speech, and the two issues collided in 1992 when he hosted Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat — denied a spot at his party’s presidential convention earlier that summer — for a speech and discussion at New York’s historic Cooper Union. The topic: Can a liberal be pro-life. On hand: plenty of Leftist radicals.

(Sounds like a very fitting commentary for today.)

Fowler published a snip from Hentoff’s column on what happened at that ‘free speech discussion’ at Cooper Union, on whether a liberal could be pro-life.

As moderator, I started what would have been the discussion by pointing out that this was an evening about free speech — not only that of the governor of Pennsylvania but also that of anyone in the audience who wanted to challenge him. The hooting, screaming, pounding and whistle blowing began. Strategically located at both sides of the hall — disruption by stereo — a preening array of hooligans made all speech except their own inaudible. They reminded me of the domestic brown shirts breaking up Jewish meetings in my youth, but these were howling soldiers of the left…

At least 80 percent of the audience wanted to hear Casey and said so, as best they could, by applauding his attempts to get started. But they were no match for the speech muggers. After several tries, Gov. Casey yielded. “The Democratic Convention suspended the First Amendment,” he tried to say, “and tonight you did the same thing.” Casey walked off the stage as the shouters congratulated each other.

Fowler says

It was an infamous event that has seen itself repeated many times, and with great intensity, over the years; and over them, Hentoff was on hand to bear witness to the assault on free speech in places where open debate and discussion were supposed to be the rule, and to call out those who were supposed to be protectors of the First Amendment.

Then, with the tinge of resignation that Wesley Smith expressed at the end of his tribute to this singular, Fowler posted a 1967 video of Hentoff in debate with the inimitable William F. Buckley on an episode of Firing Line. It was priceless. Though the topic of that was ‘Black Power’ and civil rights, defense of the vulnerable and our duty to the poor in need, some of Hentoff’s remarks were remarkably relevant to this very day’s news of politics and ‘culture wars’.

“Liberals seem to be amused by their own language” he said. “It’s not a conspiracy, they’ve just stopped thinking. They don’t think about things after they’ve talked about them.”

He was sincere, knowing from whence he spoke. Continuing to explain the liberal mentality, Hentoff added: “You don’t really do things, you plan things.”

In that column with that video, Fowler left the reader this note, presuming readers would watch two great intellects speak, and listen, to each other for genuinely civil discourse, with conviction and respect.

Enjoy, as you will, but be warned: You will despair that the quality and level of public discussion on display is in our rear-view mirror. RIP Nat.

We don’t have a Lincoln, a Martin Luther King Jr., a Reagan or Buckley, a Hentoff still among us. But we have their legacy and model and witness. And it’s our right to choose to carry it on.

Why Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched

Human dignity and human rights, “for all God’s children.”

How ironic that the day set aside to honor Dr. King is only a few days before the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade anniversary. What would he say?

Alveda King, the niece of MLK and a dedicated pro-life advocate, notes her uncle was strongly pro-life.

“Were he alive today, he would be working to secure peace and justice for those in the womb and healing for a nation that is still pained by over 53 million missing lives,” King says. The toll abortion has taken on the African American community is enough to shock the conscience of every American.

According to the US Census Bureau, African Americans comprise 12.4% of the American population; however, over 30% of the nation’s abortions are done on black women. Recently released data from the New York City Department of Health shows the Big Apple hitting a 40% abortion rate. As if that number wasn’t appalling enough, when the data is broken down all racial lines, around 60% percent of New York City’s abortions are done on black women. In other words, 1,448 African American babies are aborted for every 1,000 born. Among black teens in New York City, that number jumps to a staggering 72% abortion rate or 2,360 abortions for every 1,000 babies born.

Read that. Engage this issue.

Center for Disease Control data shows that since Roe vs. Wade (1973) abortion has been the leading cause of death among African Americans. More African Americans have lost their lives to abortion than to heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes or AIDS- combined.

Let that sink in. It’s not a coincidence.

African Americans are a prime target of the abortion industry. In analyzing the location of the nation’s abortion centers, some have found a disproportionate number situated in majority-black neighborhoods. One such center was that of Kermit Gosnell, the disgraced abortionist from Philadelphia who is now charged with murder after the deaths of at least two women and seven newborn infants at his facility.

According to the Grand Jury report, the Gosnell abortion business preyed upon low-income black women. These women were subjected to absolutely deplorable conditions. Basic health considerations were ignored and abortions were being performed by unlicensed and even untrained staff using unsanitary surgical instruments.

That trial should have made a huge difference, one that’s bee overdue for decades.

The Gosnell case made national headlines but his business strategy of targeting low-income black women is not an anomaly in the abortion industry. This goes back to the beginning of the modern pro-abortion movement with Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, an unabashed eugenicist.

Despite its claims otherwise, the pro-abortion movement does a grave disservice to African American women and the greater African American community. Abortion advocates fail black women when they rally against common sense clinic regulations, which could have prevented the Gosnell tragedy. They fail black women when they work to undermine crisis pregnancy centers, which are an invaluable resource for so many low-income black women. And they fail the African American community by denying basic humanity to black babies in the womb.

Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly envisioned an America in which everyone would be free to share in the same opportunities as everyone else.

However…

In legalizing abortion-on-demand, the Court ruled that a group of people, namely unborn children, did not deserve any legal protection whatsoever. For this reason, Roe vs. Wade is completely antithetical to King’s Dream.

Abortion has not made our society more equitable. In fact, it has done the opposite. Abortion has allowed society to arbitrarily decide whose lives are valuable and whose are expendable. True equality treats all human life the same, regardless of race, stage of development or condition of dependency. Abortion prevents millions of African Americans from sharing in King’s Dream and it must be ended.

That’s why they march, the pro-life movement who began giving voice to the voiceless on the first anniversary of Roe. Like King, they never gave up and never will. In fact, their ranks are only growing larger and younger and more determined. They’ve spread from the annual Washington DC rally and March for Life throughout the country to the West Coast Walk for Life.

The Chicago March for Life held last Sunday had a tenfold increase in participants over last year, and they were loud, joyful, exuberant, determined, happy, hopeful, positive, and very supportive. The plaza erupted at just about everything any speaker said, starting with the young African-American woman who was pressured to have an abortion but looked into a pregnancy help center where she found support and everything she needed to keep her baby, which wound up being babies when she learned she had twins. The beautiful little girls, Amelia and Olivia, were with her on stage as she spoke of hope and life and aid for women.

Two congressmen, Democrat Dan Lipinski and Republican Peter Roskam, spoke of bipartisan support for the protection of all human life and women’s health in Congress. They were brief but powerfully moving, invoking predecessors in the cause of human rights, including the drafters of the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Martin Luther King invoked that, too. On many occasions. Because the majority of Americans still hold those truths as self-evident.

In one of his lesser known addresses, ‘Our God Is Marching On’, King explained why he and his movement marched.

He said “it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama.” In that city, “a new philosophy was born” of the struggle of the oppressed, one that united an entire community to squarely face the oppressors. And out of that struggle, he said, a powerful new idea was born, one “that electrified the nation and the world.”

And then “the conscience of America began to bleed.” And as a result “of this democratic spirit,” the nation finally forced Congress  to write legislation in the hope that it would eradicate “the stain of Birmingham”, of discrimination of a whole class of human beings by another class. And that legislation gave them some degree of “their rightful dignity”.

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger  at the side of its embattled [Blacks].

At the side of its embattled, oppressed fellow human beings discriminated against and denied human rights by a class of human beings who had the legal right to do so, until those laws changed.

That’s why they marched then, said Dr. King. That’s why they march today.

 

Dr. King’s persistent message

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, coverage is all over the media and snips from the speech are being played and printed. But only selective snips.

Americans haven’t been seeing or hearing his fuller message. There’s no question the civil rights movement the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led made historic and lasting gains in this country’s laws, politics and social fabric. He dedicated his life’s work to that, always grounding those soaring speeches and addresses in the Gospel, weaving scripture throughout his messages and referring nearly always to the Almighty, on behalf of “all God’s children.”

But some of the very people today who stand on the shoulders of the great civil rights leader and who claim his legacy gave them that opportunity, cite only portions of the Rev. Dr. King’s speeches and apply them strategically and even politically in ways he may not appreciate if he were here today.

But his niece Alveda King is here and was with me on radio with her unique insight into the fullness of Dr. Martin’s message and intentions. Which she said were all about ‘finding a more excellent way.’ Some of what she told me she had already shared here.

…Martin Luther King, Jr., my Uncle M. L. took a lot of time praying, seeking the Lord, inquiring of the Lord. So as we continue to follow his pattern for the rest of this week, for the rest of this year, for the rest of our lives – if we can only begin to realize that we’re not separate races – we are one human race in need of the love of God – and believe that truth will set us free – together we can overcome in Christ.

Therefore, I can understand why my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and I add sisters] or parish together as fools.”

And so, for those of us who believe the Bible, who trust God, who have been very sinful and are now repentant, we know that we need God. We know that we need to be forgiven and healed. We know that we cannot be intolerant of other. That we must seek transformation, not just tolerance, not compromise but transformation.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said the same thing, movingly, in talking about Dr. King’s legacy and the modern movement for human rights and dignity. He was the Catholic bishops’ representative at a Christian symposium in Alabama earlier this year commemorating Dr. King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail.’ His remarks then applied today, so we discussed them again today.

This letter, which is rich in foundations of scripture and human philosophy, direct, and prophetic, gave a rationale for strong action as well as marching orders for the steps we must follow to lift us, as the letter states, “from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” Rightly, he uncovered the words of St. Thomas Aquinas that the unjust law is “the human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law” and so is, as Dr. King says, “out of harmony with the moral law.”

Archbishop Kurtz talked about the consequences of losing the sense and awareness of the natural law written on the heart, and we’re certainly facing the signs of that in the culture, law, politics, everywhere.

But it’s important, he added, to recognize the gains and the good and acknowledge them.

Thus today, we must ask forgiveness for past wrongs, be grateful for words that have already borne fruit, and be resolved for more action…

Listen again to the final words of Rev. King’s fifty-year-old letter: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

We hear and heed these words with great hope, and we pray “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where is sadness, joy … For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

And as Dr. Michael Coulter points out, we need to hear the words of Dr. King’s famous speech later that same year, commemorated this Wednesday, lesser known words from ‘I Have A Dream’.

In the third paragraph of King’s text, he says that “when the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”…

A “promissory note” is not one of those terms we use frequently, but it’s a powerful term. It’s not a hope or a wish. In fact, there was an international agreement in 1930 which defined a promissory note as implying an unconditional promise. For King, the Declaration of Independence, which he quoted directly from, was a promissory note that the United States would ultimately guarantee for all people “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As King then said, “It is obvious that America has defaulted on this promissory note.” King was not calling for the destruction of the American political order, but rather for us to be true to the ideals of the founding, and that’s why it is important that he quoted the Declaration.

So few commentators note this, or know this. But it’s important to know and talk about.

Finally, at the end of King’s speech is a beautiful sequence where he presents images of a truly post-racial society—and there again is one more reference to the Declaration of Independence. As he begins this “dream” section, he says: “I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

King’s hopes were rooted in that powerful second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that claims that no man by nature is ruler or the servant of another. It’s not just a great statement during a social struggle, it’s a great statement about what it means to be an American.

And one hoping to reveal and struggling to defend self-evident truths about the dignity of “all God’s children”, no exceptions.

Martin Luther King, in his own words

For many years and political cycles, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and works have been selectively remembered according to which passages and sound clips work for the advantage of a political agenda.

It’s been more heat than light in public debates over civil and human rights, and we can’t rely on activists or media to generate the light, so it’s up to us. So say the co-authors of the Public Discourse article about MLK’s Philosophical and Theological Legacy, in a radio interview I did with them on Martin Luther King Day. They focus on King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail to show the civil rights leader’s grounding in natural law as a deciding influence.

For a key reason:

King faced vexing moral and philosophical questions from the outset: how did he know whether a law was just or unjust, and when, if ever, was it morally permissible to disobey? In his now-celebrated “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” King’s answer was that “a just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” “To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas,” King explained, “an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”

Those who praise the modern civil rights movement, but who also want to keep morality and theology absent from public discourse, seldom mention King’s reliance on natural law in his justly famous letter.

Some who are quick to revile slavery and racism as the nation’s greatest sins are blind to its  moral parity in the movement to defend abortion on demand as “reproductive rights”, though the analogy is jarringly clear. In both causes an entire class of human beings are deemed unworthy of rights, even to the recognition as persons with inherent dignity. So Dr. King is claimed by abortion activists, as absurd as that is.

His niece, Dr. Alveda King, speaks to this all the time.

Don’t accept what the media say about what Dr. King said. Read it yourself, engage the eloquent philosophical and theological reasoning of a well-educated and committed Christian. On his national day of honor, The King Center archive site was officially launched, making his writings more available than ever.

And don’t miss the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

As Justin and Kevin summarized:

King is of course the kind of historical figure that practically everyone wants to claim as his own. Reality, however, is often complex, and the truth about King is that his primary motivations, his most fundamental commitments—the very core of his thought—were rooted in a worldview repugnant to many of those who now claim his legacy.

The ironty and disonesty of that is important to understand, because it’s based on religiously informed convictions that pre-date the state, convictions the state is increasingly driving out of the public debate and battle over civil rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dedicated

The Washington Memorial to the civil rights leader was opened in August, but a freak hurricane postponed official ceremonies. A reminder that Rev. King weathered many storms.

And the fact that he was a Reverend needs a reminder, notes Elizabeth Scalia and others who rightfully point out that the Christian roots of the social movements have been ignored.

What saddens me instead is that while students might “sort of” remember who Martin Luther King Jr. was, he is not remembered as “the Reverend” Martin Luther King, a pastor turned social movement leader. […] Due to an absence of education about contemporary religiously-motivated social movements in public schooling and private Christian schooling, the average student will not identify the Civil Rights Movement with Christianity. Thus most students will interpret institutionalized programs that were borne out of the struggle to address systemic racial inequity as a secular movement. For the devout Christians, I’d expect that they will more often reject such programs on the grounds of preventing secular encroachment in the private domain where religious expression is protected under law. Those who participate in the Black Church however will stand in support of these programs knowing full well that its roots lie in the very application of Christian theology.

Dr. King’s niece sure does. Dr. Alveda King discussed these roots with me on radio and proudly proclaimed her uncle’s undying dedication to Gospel values in the civil rights movement, insisting he would uphold the sanctity and dignity of human life through natural death today, rejecting abortion and euthanasia as ‘rights’. Some have claimed otherwise, she notes, but then reasserts ‘Uncle Martin’s’ Christian beliefs that motivated his relentless struggle for human rights.

Another reminder is what he wrote himself, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. He explains the fundamental basis for civil disobedience in the face of laws against humanity.

I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Dr. Alveda King, in carrying on the tradition of her inheritance, says abortion is the civil rights issue of our time. And she’s dedicated her life to backing it up.

If King were alive today

Dr. Martin Luther King lives on in his legacy. There are many voices speaking for what that means today.

Especially today, little more than a week after the random violence in Arizona perpetrated by a lone, mad gunman. But politicians used the occasion to weave it all together.

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at King’s former church in Atlanta, praised him as “our nation’s greatest drum major of peace” and said the Jan. 8 bloodshed was a call to recommit to King’s values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice.

“Last week a senseless rampage in Tucson reminded us that more than 40 years after Dr. King’s own tragic death, our struggle to eradicate violence and to promote peace goes on,” Holder said.

So does the struggle to reform our understanding and treatment of human beings suffering from mental illness. But this is a day for other civil reflections…

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who worked with King during the civil rights movement, issued a renewed call for Americans to unite in peace and love as King preached during his lifetime.

“If Dr. King could speak to us today, he would tell us that it does not matter how much we disapprove of another persons point of view, there is never a reason to deny another human being the respect he or she deserves,” Lewis said.

Exactly. That’s what his niece, Dr. Alveda King, has dedicated herself to teaching, but with greater elaboration on that point. If her uncle were here today, says this Dr. King, he would not claim the political views some of his avid followers ascribe to him.

Dr. Alveda King, full-time Director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said today that advice columns written by her uncle for Ebony magazine in 1957-58 reveal a man who today would be regarded as a social conservative.

“In advising men and women on questions of personal behavior 50 years ago, Uncle Martin sounded no different than a conservative Christian preacher does now,” said Dr. King. “He was pro-life, pro-abstinence before marriage, and based his views on the unchanging Word of the Bible. Today, Planned Parenthood would condemn Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the ‘religious right.'”

Startling thought to a lot of people perhaps. But Dr. Alveda King has been saying this, consistently, for decades. Last year on this occasion, she said this:

“Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a Beloved Community where all are treated with respect and dignity,” said Dr. King. “He fought against society’s exclusion of people who were treated as less than human because of their appearance. Today, we are compelled to continue Uncle Martin’s fight by standing up for those who are treated as less than human because of their helplessness and inconvenience.
 
“The unborn are as much a part of the Beloved Community as are newborns, infants, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Too many of us speak of tolerance and inclusion, yet refuse to tolerate or include the weakest and most innocent among us in the human family. As we celebrate the life of Uncle Martin, let us renew our hearts and commit our lives to treating each other, whatever our race, status, or stage of life, as we would want to be treated. Let us let each other live.”

That, fundamentally, constitutes the civil rights movement today. And it’s the core of all other rights. To deny or disregard that, requires the ‘willful suspension of disbelief’ of what you can’t not know……the natural law about moral order.

Plans for a memorial to Dr. King were highlighted today. Good. Its existence on the Washington Mall should provide the opportunity to focus on his legacy in its fullness and truth.

Competing rallies, same essential message

Restore, renew, reclaim. Two rallies take place today in Washington on this anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. One is on the spot where Dr. King delivered that famous oration. The other nearby, but headed to the Mall as well. They’re being reported as being two very different groups of activists in tension, having two competing messages. But they’re not. Or….need not be.

This WaPo story is an early snapshot of the whole thing, both as it is (facts are there) and as it’s being portrayed by the press and certain politicians (information is arranged strategically). Television host and commentator Glenn Beck organized the “Restoring Honor” rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Rev. Al Sharpton arranged the “Reclaim the Dream” rally to begin at Dunbar High School and continue in a march to the Mall.

Actually, both groups are claiming very similar purposes and have similar messages.

Beck’s is the headlined event. He opened with this:

“We have had moments of brilliance and moments of darkness. But this country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished – and the things that we can do tomorrow. The story of America is the story of humankind.”

A lot of participants are telling the media that’s the message that drew them to attend this event.

Beck’s rally has been billed as a peaceful and non-political “re-dedication” of the traditional honor and values of the nation. The event is taking place on the same stage where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day, a coincidence that has caused controversy.

It wouldn’t seem to be a coincidence, and at this point you have to wonder what’s so controversial about a rally to inspire honor and dignity on the spot where Dr. King delivered his inspirational speech. But WaPo tells you in so many words, by noting the crowd was “overwhelmingly white.” (Cue reader to be race conscious.) Also…

The crowd, consisting of many from the Midwest and the South, was not visibly angry.

There were probably many from other parts of the country, too, but that line is another cue to think stereotypes.

Sarah Palin’s participation in Beck’s rally, no matter what she said, was sure to draw the most attention. And at last check, media stories (including this WaPo one) ran video of her on their front page. Her early comments:

Palin said she was speaking not as a politician, but as the mother of a combat veteran. Evoking the legacies of King, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Palin called on Americans to restore traditional values to the country.

“We must not fundamentally transform America, as some would want,” Palin said. “We must restore America and restore her honor.”

“Here today, at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point,” Palin said. “Look around you. You’re not alone. You are Americans! You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them.”

So now the focus goes to the “counter-demonstration” nearby, starting with a quote from one attendee “who arrived early to show her opposition to Beck.”

“If we hadn’t elected a black president, do you think they would be doing this today?” she asked.

Why inject race and controversy into a day of reflection and inspiration? But there’s more here…

[Baltimore resident Tehuti] Imhotep shouted at passersby: “This is our real history. [Beck’s] trying to redefine the civil rights movement. How insensitive! King was about bringing people together. This man Beck is pulling people apart.” 

How? Dr. King’s niece, civil rights activist Dr. Alveda King, was a featured speaker at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, the article doesn’t note.

Fox News did a live interview at the “Reclaim the Dream” rally with the Dunbar High School principal, a very thoughtful man who had nothing but positive words about encouraging students to achieve honor by setting and pursuing noble goals.

I’m hearing the same message in both groups, and wish they would get together.

The new ‘Freedom Rides’

What a good time to recall the hard won victory of human dignity over degradation that the civil rights movement struggled for in the South and ultimately, nationwide, in the ’60’s.

And what a noble way for the new civil rights movement to show the coherence of the cause.

As the civil-rights movement was simmering in the early 1960s, black men and women, often accompanied by white sympathizers, boarded buses in the American South and sat wherever they wanted. These “freedom riders” challenged local and state laws and customs that kept the races separate on public transportation as well as in waiting rooms and restrooms.

This Friday, a new kind of freedom rider will take to the road…

‘Freedom Rides for the Unborn’. Led by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Dr. Alveda King, director of PFL’s African-American Outreach, this undertaking is more than symbolic.

Linking the Freedom Rides for the Unborn to the concept and method of the 1961 Freedom Rides for civil rights was the result of a conversation Father Pavone and King had while attending a March for Life.

“This is the civil-rights movement” of this century, King concluded.

“I always see the pro-life effort and my own involvement as a striving for freedom,” said Father Pavone. “We’re talking about real people who are really enslaved, oppressed. And the whole ministry of the Gospel and priesthood is what Jesus said about his ministry: ‘I come to proclaim liberty to captives.’”

Ride on

Who’s stoking racism?

In the past two week, racially charged arguments and accusations have been heating up the air waves. Allegations are out there about the Tea Party movement, the New Black Panthers, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, and certain members of the Obama administration. What’s going on here?

We’re supposed to be ‘post-racial’.

The election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was supposed to be a sign of our national maturity, a chance to transform the charged, stilted “national conversation” about race into a smarter and more authentic dialogue, led by a president who was also one of the nation’s subtlest thinkers and writers on the topic.
Instead, the conversation just got dumber.

And a lot angrier.

Fox News often stars a leather-clad New Black Panther, while MSNBC scours the tea party movement for racist elements, which one could probably find in any mass organization in America. Obama’s own, sole foray into the issue of race involved calling a police officer “stupid,” and regretting his own words.

Since that was written, however, Obama has at least secondarily figured into another flareup, the Shirley Sherrod fiasco.

The ex-official spoke following a whirlwind 48-hour period in which the Obama administration completely reversed its position toward Sherrod. The former Georgia director of rural development was compelled to resign Monday after a brief video surfaced showing her telling a story to an NAACP audience about how she once withheld support to a white farmer. Vilsack said he, not the White House, urged her to resign. The NAACP also initially condemned her…

The NAACP later rescinded its earlier statement and on Wednesday both Vilsack and the White House apologized, calling the incident a “teachable moment.”

Yes, it is. So what have we learned?

Now, that the facts have come to light, we have another one of those teachable moments that keep piling up without, apparently, teaching us anything.

The conservative wing of the media (on the internet, talk radio and Fox News) ran way too quickly with a story that seemed to support the narrative of reverse discrimination in the Obama administration — particularly coming on the heels of questions regarding the Justice Department’s handling of a caught-on-tape alleged voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panthers.

On the other hand…

Here’s one, for those who cringe at the very mention of the Tea Party movement…The leftist organization Think Progress has created a video allegedly demonstrating racism by Tea Party demonstration participants — except that at one of those shown was plucked from another video which clearly shows the clown being shunned by the other demonstrators.  It was a fact that didn’t seem to matter to the video’s creator — and clearly casts doubt over the validity of the overall piece.

Charges and counter-charges have been fast and furious.

If we were all to actually learn something from this incident (doubtful) it might be to slow down and think before reacting to the latest video that happens to support the narrative we have come to believe (and, therefore, are always looking to corroborate).

I happened onto a conversation Dr. Alveda King was having about the current flareup of racial allegations and the longterm civil rights cause, and she and Pastor Stephen Broden gave the best commentary and analysis on this I’ve heard. May calm heads, and hearts with honest intent, prevail.