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Martin Luther King Day
by Jan Sand
2007-01-16 10:12:07
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Like any other organization based on faith in a basic set of principles, a nation has its panoply of saints. Unlike the very strict hierarchy of the Catholic Church, a nation usually has no formal procedure for designating people as fitting this exclusive category and a great many candidates are advocated but not many make the grade without some doubts. Since sainthood somehow implies suffering to attain conformity to admired principles martyrdom greatly enhances that attainment.

Perhaps the most obvious confirmation a nation can give for sainthood is to have a day designated to honor the individual chosen. Martin Luther King has fully qualified.

The stature of a leader can be measured against the immensity of his difficulties and there is no question of the strength and the multiplicity of Martin Luther King’s opponents and how well he dealt with them. There is no question that he fought a very good fight, but today it is obvious that it was only one battle in a war that continues with only partial victories in its long history.

To return to the generality of a faith organization, it must also declare a formal set of principles to which it declares it conforms. In the USA, those principles are explicit in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As with all other like organizations there is a strong element of hypocrisy in these declarations since they do not necessarily lay out current conditions but more make clear the goals to be ultimately attained.

All organizations of humans are by necessity a potpourri of individual differences that must be somewhat resolved to validate the integrity of the group. There must be some progress over a reasonable time towards the stated ideals to accept that the ideals indicate some sense of reality. In the case of the US African American population over the last hundred years since slavery was officially eliminated in the USA the progress towards real equality was agonizingly slow in general and, especially in the southern states, not at all.

The recurring brutalities exerted by the dominant white population was horrifying to anybody with any sense of decency and several events after WWII indicated that there would finally be some legal movement to give the black population some support in their struggle to be accepted as full American citizens with all rights.

The American south has always been a sector inclined towards militarism and gun possession (and remains so) and has been, in general, less prosperous than other sectors. It has always resented the victory of the north in the Civil War and its treatment of its black citizens was comparable to the apartheid policies of South Africa. The whites there were frequently poor and they took out their resentment of their economic situation on the equally poor blacks as some form of compensation. Local politicians took advantage of the situation to maintain corrupt and inefficient and brutal local regimes.

Protests against white viciousness by blacks were suppressed by official actions by police and politicians in power in the nastiest way essentially no different from the policies of Hitler against the Jews. Anybody who openly opposed these suppressive policies literally took his life in his hands. Multiple murders of black people and supporters of black people during the protests of the 1960’s movement testifies to the truth of this and underlines the courage of the protesters in general and Martin Luther King in particular.

In addition, Soviet Russia, who could hardly be counted as guiltless in the treatment of its own protesters, took advantage of the blatant hypocrisy of the USA to point out the lack of freedom in the USA. This speaking of the truth by someone with equally dirty hands infuriated the US Government and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, in particular. He utilized this to attempt to pin sympathy for Communism on the black freedom movement and, by implication, Martin Luther King. It didn’t stick, but there are extensive FBI files on King showing how persistent the effort was.

Efforts by presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson finally (and somewhat reluctantly) moved civil rights towards fairness for black citizens in response to the huge movement led by Martin Luther King and many others.

But although African Americans have progressed substantially since these measures passed, there is still a long way to go. There are overwhelmingly more black people in the hugely bloated American prison system than whites for very questionable reasons. The recent shootings of innocent black people by the American police for no sensible provocation and the failure to make the participating police responsible for their actions indicates the persistence of real problems. And the century long segregation of the black population has created a counter culture that foments suspicion and hatreds that probably will never completely dissipate.

The African American population has contributed tremendously to American culture and black people are slowly gaining ground politically and financially.
Nevertheless some of the tricks of US politics in the Florida and Ohio parts of the recent elections indicate black people are still excluded to a degree in fair participation.

In general, there seem to me an unfair proportion of good and decent leaders who have been assassinated in recent years: Gandhi, the two Kennedy’s, and Martin Luther King stand most prominently in my memory.

Whatever his minor shortcomings, he remains a true hero deserving of all the praise and admiration now accorded him.

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Thanos2007-01-17 08:07:45

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