Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The King Thing

# 347 The King Thing

This space devotes one submission a year on "Don't try to second guess Martin." Or more accurately we don't know what he'd say about today's conditions and circumstances. Don't speak in his name if you're not him. Don't try to impose YOUR ideas and label them "Martin-late" or even "Martin-lite." This year there are some extra thoughts, in addition to "don't try to guess what he'd say from the Great Beyond."

King's national holiday is around the corner. There's a big hoo-hah going on because Hillary Clinton said --more or less -- that he'd have gotten nowhere without President Johnson pushing the civil rights bills.

This has gotten a lot of people into a twist. They say it is hurtful. They say it diminishes -- or tries to diminish his legacy and his prominence.

There's no doubt today that historically, King was the most important figure of the civil rights era. But he did not act alone.

By his words and by his actions, Dr. King was a coalitionist, a collaborator, a recruiter who wanted as wide a range of supporters as he could find and gather, and as many.

So when Lyndon Johnson went to congress -- with triple clout -- as the president of the United States, with enormous influence as carrier of the Kennedy legacy and as the former top guy in the Senate, the legislators listened and did what they were asked, albeit some of them kicking and screaming.

We heard no squawking from the sidelines when he did that. At least, not from followers of Martin Luther King. In fact, they were pleased that he -- or someone -- had recruited the President of the United States, a southerner, to the cause.

But it wasn't only LBJ. It was also the leaders of the country's northern-based Protestant churches who said "this guy," meaning King, "was right. We should support him." Without the Bishops of the Methodist Church, the civil rights legislation of the time might still be languishing in committee. But they directed their ministers to get up and support their fellow minister's good works. And they did.

And that got ordinary people to thinking "yeah, what were we thinking?"

The decision of the President cost his Democratic Party, in his own words, the south "for a long time..." as he put in an interview with Bill Moyers.

Actually, after the aforementioned kicking and screaming was over, the south fell in line much more rapidly and rigorously than the north. Southern bigots were always pretty up front about their bigotry. Northern bigots (including many of my fellow New York Liberals) were much more circumspect about it, and much more subtle.

The south said "okay, we have to change. We don't want to, but we will." And they did. The north said "we were never bigots in the first place. So nothing's different. No 'colored only' water fountains and lunch counters up here. Now, let's all move to Levittown." Baloney!

Martin Luther King did not work alone.

And he never claimed to.

So giving credit to those who helped him along the way is a compliment, not a criticism.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

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