For a white guy to speculate about how Martin Luther King, Jr. would have felt about “Black Lives Matter” is foolhardy indeed. You can’t get more un-PC than that. Someone should (and undoubtedly will) tell me to “check my privilege” and put me in the racist corner with a dunce cap, probably one wired for electro-shock therapy.
But Martin Luther King Day is a national holiday for all of us to celebrate, so I am going to go for it — and, not just because, once upon a time, I was a civil rights worker. That was 1966, fifty years ago now, when I was living in a Sumter, South Carolina, house belonging to the very MLK’s cousin, the mortician for that small city’s black population who was extremely gracious to my then-wife and me. We were young Northern grad students there registering voters, teaching black history to African-American children, directing those kids in what was undoubtedly the first local production of A Raisin in the Sun and helping to integrate public facilities that were still Jim Crow.
So it should come as no surprise that Dr. King has meant a lot to me — emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Of all the ghastly political assassinations of my youth — JFK, RFK and MLK — King’s was the one that affected me most deeply by far. I remember dropping to my knees and sobbing the moment I heard about it.
You may already suspect I believe Dr. King would not have taken so kindly to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, that he more likely would have avowed, unlike the cowardly Martin O’Malley, that “All Lives Matter.” If you don’t agree with that, consider these words from King’s most famous speech — in fact the most famous American speech since the “Gettysburg Address”:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
Pretty beautiful, isn’t it? And it ends with that inspiring quote from Isaiah — “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” [emphasis mine]
What inspired me, what inspired so many of us about Martin, is that he was an integrationist. He wanted the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners to “be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood.”
The “Black Lives Matter” people are separatists. They are not the sons and daughters of MLK. They are the sons and daughters of Stokely Carmichael and, to some extent, even Huey P. Newton. They are an unhappy reprisal of the Black Power movement that rose up just about the time I was in South Carolina. (I remember meeting the young Julian Bond at the time and him proudly showing me a leaflet from the brand new Black Panther Party of Lowndes County, Alabama. I excused the black nationalism then as a phase. Unfortunately, I was naive. Well, I was only twenty-two years old.)
What’s happening now is very sad for all of us, black and white.
“Black and white together, we shall not be moved….” Remember that, from the Mavis Staples song? I did, when I watched the BLM activists push the hapless Bernie Sanders off stage at one of his campaign speeches. Bernie undoubtedly sang it when he was young. He couldn’t stay with the message. These days a lot of people can’t. Afraid to be branded racist, they acquiesce to racism.
When Barack Obama came into office, almost everyone — myself included, although I didn’t vote for him — wanted him to succeed as the first black president. He didn’t. Ironically, he became the principal father of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that first surfaced as a hashtag on the acquittal of the “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman for the murder of Obama’s putative son Trayvon Martin. A case that wasn’t really about race was turned into nothing but race. A scab that was healing was almost deliberately picked off.
Martin Luther King’s dream, which was on the verge of becoming a reality, as much of a reality as one could hope for in an imperfect world, was set immeasurably back. On this MLK Day, we should all consider how to reverse that.