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  • Saturday, January 15, 2005


    Martin Luther King and War

    As we come up on Martin Luther King Day, I came across a couple of items I thought worth noting. The first is from Holiday for a Hero:

    Reagan's quip and Helms rabid opposition sent the not so subtle message that King really didn't merit a national holiday. Legions of state legislators, local officials, and business leaders instantly took the cue. It took more than a decade sparked by ferocious political, and legal battles and intense opposition from industry groups before all fifty states finally capitulated and passed a King holiday law.

    That hasn't ended the fight. Though King's holiday is an officially declared public holiday, many local government agencies still refuse to shut their doors that day. A study of hundreds of businesses by BNA Inc., a Washington-based business news publisher, last year, found that more than 40 percent of state and local public agencies keep their doors open on King's birthday. But opposition to a King holiday is deepest and most persistent among businesses. According to the BNA survey, fewer than three out of 10 businesses give their workers the day off. By contrast, about half of American firms give their employees a day off on Presidents' Day. This is the next least celebrated day next to King's birthday.

    The second is from More Than a Dreamer:

    Every year, millions of Americans pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. We often forget, however, that King was the object of derision when he was alive. At key moments in his quest for civil rights and world peace, the corporate media treated King with hostility. Dr. King's march for open housing in Chicago, when the civil rights movement entered the North, caused a negative, you've-gone-too-far reaction in the Northern press. And Dr. King's stand on peace and international law, especially his support for the self-determination of third world peoples, caused an outcry and backlash in the predominantly white press.

    In his prophetic anti-war speech at Riverside Church in 1967 (recorded and filmed for posterity but rarely quoted in today's press), King emphasized four points: 1) that American militarism would destroy the war on poverty; 2) that American jingoism breeds violence, despair, and contempt for law within the United States; 3) the use of people of color to fight against people of color abroad is a "cruel manipulation of the poor"; 4) human rights should be measured by one yardstick everywhere.

    The Washington Post denounced King's anti-war position, and said King was "irresponsible." In an editorial entitled "Dr. King's error," The New York Times chastised King for going beyond the allotted domain of black leaders – civil rights. TIME called King's anti-war stand "demogogic slander ... a script for Radio Hanoi." The media responses to Dr. King's calls for peace were so venomous that King's two recent biographers – Stephen Oates and David Garrow – devoted whole chapters to the media blitz against King's internationalism.

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