It may not be bad that we are slow to elevate a historical figure to the status of national exemplar.
In 1983, Congress declared Martin Luther King Day to be a national holiday. King proposed that legalized racial discrimination contradicted fundamental propositions of the American experiment. But he said it with an almost singular power of persuasion.
ews stories of recent months underscore the fact that the place of Martin Luther King, Jr. Among the many things that make us who we are, we are whom we admire and teach our children to emulate.
Myth-making in a nation so large and various as ours takes time. When we so elevate a figure, we are saying something not only about that person but about ourselves.
Long and lasciviously, the media slaver over the manifest “hypocrisy” of a Jimmy Swaggart. King’s sexual derelictions, on the other hand, are discreetly ignored, or even welcomed as evidence that he was not one of those awkward types derisively referred to as “saints.” (The last was the relieved observation of in response to the King exposures.) Why this nonchalance toward Dr. Another and less attractive answer is the supposition that we shouldn’t expect as much of blacks. King’s moral failings are, as often as not, the same people who tell us that black rap groups that draw their language from the sewer are “representative of authentic black culture.” The “acceptance” professed by so many of a progressive bent is, in fact, a condescension riddled through and through with racialist stereotypes.
The truth is that for millions of Christians, black and white, there is the perception that Dr. If he is to be accused of hypocrisy, however, it was the hypocrisy defined as the homage that vice pays to virtue.
It seems that large sections of the thesis, and much of King’s earlier and later writings, were “borrowed” from others without attribution. Strangely enough, however, some among his more distinguished biographers have said that they are shaken by the finding of plagiarism.
They were not similarly shaken by his sexual behavior.
Yes, but a society needs something like public piety—common symbols, stories, and rites that evoke respect, even reverence (although never worship). It was not, as some claim, throwing a sop to black Americans; it was raising a sign for all Americans. He made clear that his dream was a dream of and for America, not against America. Most Americans listened to his thesis, and knew he was right.
Some of those who view history in the light of providential purpose did not hesitate to acclaim him as God’s instrument. King led this country to something like repentance and amendment of life, or at least to nobler resolve. King and the day set aside to honor his memory remain, as they say, controversial. We reject the claim that it is the only reason while readily acknowledging that one reason is racism.