This coming Monday, and the days leading up to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, will be routine. Men, women and children of every creed and color will march, evoking Dr. King’s dream and holding his likeness as they make their way along roads and streets throughout the land. Preachers spoon-fed on King’s sermons will take to pulpits and stages to speak about what was, what is and what should be. Their words will be met by a chorus of “amens” and perhaps a “you betta preach!” or two.
Since the inception of the national MLK holiday in the early 1980s, there has been no shortage of people taking part in events to honor the slain Civil Rights icon. Some call the holiday a time for celebration – an appropriate day to relish how far African Americans have come since Dr. King walked among us. We like to call it a commemoration, a day to honor a great man who left this world far too soon and long before his dream was reality.
Sadly, if Dr. King was with us today, much of his dream would still be, well – a dream. If he were still here with us, there would be a look of satisfaction on his 84-year-old face Monday when President Barack Obama is sworn-in for his second term. The President’s election and reelection were major turning points in race relations. Some would even say President Obama is proof that blacks have made it to the top of Dr. King’s proverbial mountaintop. But there is little evidence of that. President Obama’s victories were made possible by a coalition of black, Hispanic, Asian and white voters; he has never won the majority of white votes.
Last year, an Associated Press poll conducted and released a few weeks before the President was reelected, actually showed that more Americans (51 percent) held anti-black attitudes since President Obama’s election in 2008 when only 48 percent said they held such views.
Ironically, as we remember Dr. King, anti-Obama backlash in this state and others across the nation are striking at the heart of the issue that King was most passionate about – voting rights.
It’s disgraceful that as we lift Dr. King up, our new governor and his right-wing friends running the General Assembly are readying voter identification legislation that will disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. In his time, King and others fought laws that required blacks to pass tests and jump through other hoops in order to vote. We have lawmakers in Raleigh who are hellbent on seeing the South rise again. They want to go back to a time when blacks knew their place, and the White House was definitely not that place.
Dr. King would not be pleased with the actions or inactions, rather, of his own people either. That look of satisfaction on his face as he watches the President take the oath would disappear when he learns that Chicago – the President’s adopted hometown – is the black murder capital of America. In King’s day, a white racist with a shotgun, noose or bomb was a black man’s worst enemy. Today, it is someone with his same skin color.
Dr. King would be downright frowning after he hears that black school children test grade levels below white students. That one would really baffle him. When he was around, blacks had much, much less and separate but equal was the law, yet they excelled in the classroom and went on to break down color barriers and stereotypes.
There is much more that Dr. King would frown upon, unfortunately, so much so that we doubt that he would want his holiday to be purely about celebration. There is too much to ponder and left to be done. There is no time or cause for a victory party.