Today, January 21, 2013, is the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday. Many conservatives and some evangelical Christians and others have made strong cases in the past regarding Dr. King’s many flaws and failures.
He apparently held some theological views that were quite suspect. In other words, he bought into theologies attached to the Higher Critical movement and other deviations from historic Christianity. There are great concerns about his moral life, compounded by the fact that his infidelities were cloaked by his being a minister. Some of his political associations were suspect. Aspects of his political agenda were wrong. He was a very flawed man.
So was Columbus, whose arrival in the New World we celebrate. We remember veterans on November 11, the historic date for the ending of World War I. That war, not the men who fought and died, was wrong from beginning to end. Even Presidents Washington and Lincoln were flawed men.
The case was made years ago that Dr. King’s birthday should not be a federal holiday. The case was made that the day was set aside for “political reasons.” Every thing that government does is for political reasons. And there is no changing it now. Perhaps the case could be made that many great Americans are not honored with holidays. True. The case can also be made that Labor Day is socialist in its origins.
Our calendar and the federal holidays are done deals. Even changing the actual dates in favor of celebrating the holidays on Mondays is a past event that is not going to change. Quite frankly, I enjoyed the day off. I don’t generally attend parades, rallies, or other events on any holiday. I sleep later, read more, and enjoy relaxing with the family. And while I would not think Millard Fillmore’s birthdate called for a federal holiday, I would probably not object to another day off. (When is Fillmore’s birthday?)
On this occasion, having noted objections to Dr. King’s life and passive acceptance of his birthday being celebrated by a holiday, I will say something in his favor.
Dr. King addressed some real social ills and evils. I was born into the world that he was trying to change. I remember the “colored school,” the back doors to stores where blacks congregated, the separate waiting rooms at the doctor’s office, and the fear and anger that surfaced when any person of color “threatened” to move into a white neighborhood or go to a white church.
I was never bothered by segregation as a kid; after all, I was white. And my parents, at ease with that same culture, were decent and fair to all people. They would not have socialized with colored folks, but they would never have treated them cruelly.
But my acceptance of the status quo and the pleasant world I experienced did not correspond to the greater realities. In World War II, many African-Americans served in the U.S. military. When soldiers in training went to (southern) towns and tried to enter restaurants, they were denied access. German POWs who were put to work on American farms were allowed in those restaurants. That is wrong.
The abuses, denials of rights, hardships, dangers, and cruelties to fellow citizens with dark skin were wrong. Along with many good relationships between the races, there were social problems that were horrendous.
White southerners, sitting in pews in Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Pentecostal churches, should have been arm-in-arm with black southerners sitting in Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Pentecostal in carrying the Gospel mandates into the social order.
Sound southern Christians who believed the Bible apparently assumed that while heaven would be open for all races and would also be segregated.
Dr. King was incredibly gifted as an orator and writer. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a masterpiece of political rhetoric. His speaking style was quite familiar to all who know something of old-time preaching in the south, whether coming from a black or white preacher.
Dr. King and other southern civil rights leaders wisely used economic boycotts and other methods to bring change. They hit business people hard in the pocketbooks. The changes were slow, painful, sometimes misguided, and limited. It can be argued that black athletes did more to change the culture than black civil rights leaders. Nevertheless, the movement was exactly that: The world changed, even if it changed slowly or inadequately.
Bottom line was that something had to be done. King was a leader. His words live. His legacy is great, flaws and all.
And all this brings me to another point. I miss the liberals and Democrats of the 1950s and early 1960s. Again, I know their flaws and intents.
I know that ideas have consequences and we are reaping the consequences of wrongful ideas of the Left of the 1960s. (And we are reaping consequences of wrongful ideas of the Right of the 1960s.) But, at the Idea stage, the Ideas can be still be tweaked and altered and re-formed. Change the Idea a bit and you change the Consequences a lot.
Dr. King was striving to see black kids in good schools and colleges, blacks able to buy and sell, and blacks able to vote. He wanted fairness, equality of opportunity, and decency in the way people are treated.
I was incredibly impressed with reading Robert Caro’s third and fourth volumes on Lyndon Johnson. The books are titled Master of the Senate and The Passage of Power. (This series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, is now into its fourth volume and at least one more–and a lengthy one at that–is needed.) Johnson was incredibly flawed as a human being. He did, however, labor for some noble and rightful causes.
Hubert Humphrey, a Senator and later a Vice President, was a man who gave his life-energies to the cause of civil rights. Even some of the men on the other side of these issues were men of great stature.
Senator Harry Byrd, Jr. of Virginia was an old and powerful senator when Lyndon Johnson became President. The country faced a fiscal cliff then too. Here was the issue: Sen. Byrd would not allow a budge to get past him that exceeded $100 billion. He and Pres. Johnson met and they stuck to the $100 billion amount.
Senator Richard Russell of Georgia was a truly great and gifted man. The defense of America was also the prime motivation in his heart. Senators Byrd and Russell, men of their times, were both dedicated to maintaining segregation. But the segregationists of that era were better men than the “humanitarians” of our time.
There is no senator today who can compare with Byrd, Russell, Johnson, or Humphrey.
We have much to bemoan about the lack of leadership in the Conservative movement and Republican party. But Liberalism has fallen too. On this day, I honor the past leaders, remembering their gifts and imperfections. We have a long ways to go in order to get back to where they were.