Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Posts on January 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I watched some less famous video recordings of King (here’s one), which I found humanized him and increased my admiration for him. It was obvious that he wasn’t an abstract hero, destined to stride around altering history, but a person who understood the immensity of the problems he faced and dedicated himself to facing them anyway—which at this point in my life is the only conception of a hero I find interesting. Also, I felt I could see that King genuinely wanted the best for everyone: his motivation was not merely to carry out some historical agenda, but actually to help people better their lives. In other words, King was good (in the sense of having right motivation), not merely great.

On the negative side, I was surprised by the bullying tone of King’s white interlocutors in some interviews he gave (such as this one). And I was absolutely appalled to learn details of the FBI’s maltreatment of King, which I had known about only in general terms. King’s Wikipedia entry quotes a threatening letter, anonymously delivered by the FBI, rife with the language of race hatred; this CNN article excerpts an earlier draft of the letter.

I recognize that, on some level, it’s funny for me to express surprise that whites in the 1960s were in the habit of talking down to blacks, or at the depths to which the US establishment would sink to discredit King, whose goals look so obviously worthy in retrospect. But I have had little personal experience of these sorts of abuses, and until recently I was inclined to write them off as conspiracy theories. What systemic injustices will we shudder to recall in fifty years? (Our brutal drug policy and our involvement in some aspects of Israel’s relations with its neighbors strike me as two likely candidates.) What earnest, decent campaigners do we now bully and abuse? (For me, the only person who comes readily to mind is Obama—but he’s the president, which feels somehow different.)