Every year we set aside the third Monday of January to celebrate the legacy of one of the most important figures in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, in a truly serendipitous confluence of events, the holiday falls on President Obama’s Inauguration Day, and the 50th year since Dr. King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. To honor the special occasion, President Obama plans to use King’s old personal Bible for the ceremonial oath; but should he? That’s a question Dr. Cornel West addresses in a recent video floating around the Internet, and it cannot be answered without discussing the real Martin Luther King, not the sanitized Disney version we read about in our textbooks, and hear about in the mainstream media.
As Dr. West points out in his remarks, King’s legacy is about so much more than just ending segregation and trying to bring the races together singing Kumbaya. In addition to having a dream that children of all colors could join hands and play together, King also once declared the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” That was during his much less-well-known, but no less admirable, “Beyond Vietnam” speech, where he expressed his disdain for the Vietnam War and frustration that we were wasting valuable money and resources that could instead be used on social welfare at home, going so far as to say “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” That’s the Martin Luther King that fewer people are aware of, because it’s very inconvenient for the Washington establishment these days.
So, has Barack Obama earned the right to take advantage of Dr. King’s legacy for his own political purposes? Does the man who has embraced unaccountable drone attacks on innocent children in Pakistan and Yemen deserve to use the legacy of a man who passionately fought against the deaths of innocent children in Vietnam till his untimely death? Does the man who re-appointed Bush’s DEA chief to continue to mercilessly wage the failed War on Drugs, which has been (accurately) described as “The New Jim Crow”, deserve to be able to claim kinship with our nation’s greatest civil rights icon?
Dr. West’s answer is an emphatic no.
What do you think?