Distorting Dr. King’s Vision

Last Monday, our school observed a day of remembrance for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest visionaries of the 20th century. In a period of racial turbulence, he stood up for what he believed was right. Commonly referred to as “The King,” Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence was the guiding force of the civil rights movement. In his most famous speech, before 250,000 supporters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the eloquent orator shared his dream that his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. These words are regarded as some of the most moving and powerful ever delivered in a speech. Dr. King’s legacy is one that the entire world’s population should honor. But close to home, Dr. King’s vision has been distorted. A few powerful leaders in the black community have decided to put some “spin” on the man’s words and have hijacked his legacy: rather than building bridges to unite the people of this country, certain organizations are building barriers with destructive policies. Sheriee Bowman, a spokeswoman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, questioned President Bush’s decision to pay his respects to the gravesite of Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would have been his 75th birthday. She then stated, “Last year at this time he stood a stand against affirmative action, the Michigan case, which is part of Dr. King’s legacy,” referring to recent legal wrangling over the University of Michigan’s admissions policies. Ms. Bowman’s logic is tenuous. Dr. King clearly stated that people should be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, so how could affirmative action be a part of his legacy? In fact, it seems as though affirmative action is the exact opposite of his dream. Ms. Bowman is not the only person in a position of power who believes this. In fact, two men that the media has accepted as Dr. King’s successors, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, would concur. Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton attacked another candidate for agreeing with Bush on the Michigan issue and blasted Dean as “anti-black” because of his stance on affirmative action; Jackson has publicly declared President Bush to be “spitting in the face” of The King when he decided to challenge Michigan’s admissions policy. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a man who stood for hatred—especially racial hatred—but both Sharpton and Jackson have publicly made insensitive, racist remarks. Sharpton once referred to a white storeowner in Harlem as a “white interloper.” Shortly after, a madman burned down the man’s store, though no connection between Sharpton’s words and the incident were ever found. And throughout their time in the spotlight, both have made discordant remarks about Jews. I highly doubt that Dr. King would endorse offensive racial comments to fulfill his dream, especially if the most powerful leaders in the modern civil rights movement were the ones saying them. In honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we must try to embrace his legacy for what it really is. We must celebrate his cause, honor his memory, and continue to fight for what he believed in. We, the future leaders of this great country, must work together to create and preserve a land where all are created equal and where we are never judged by the color of our skin. However, we must also speak out against those who have hijacked his legacy and have used it to rebuild racial barriers. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr. did die for his dream, didn’t he?