Posts tagged with: martin luther king

This week’s commentary developed out of my remarks at Acton on Tap. My years of studying and reading about the civil rights movement at Ole Miss and seminary aided in the writing of this piece:

Will Tea Parties Awaken America’s Moral Culture?

Tea parties are changing the face of political participation, but critics of the tea party movement point to these grassroots upstarts as “extreme,” “angry,” “racist” and even “seditious.” Yet The Christian Science Monitor reported that tea party rallies are so orderly police have given them more latitude than other protest groups. Are tea parties really seditious or do they instead invoke a genuine American tradition of protest—such as when civil rights leaders too made appeals to the Founding Fathers?

With knee-jerk charges leveled against tea party rallies, it may be prudent for organizers to think more carefully about the message and images they express. Dismissing out of hand the most common charges, however baseless, could prove costly for a movement of real opportunity aiming to transform the culture.

Naturally, tea partiers have borrowed from the symbols of the American Founding, but the civil rights movement may offer an even greater teachable moment. One clear reason for this is that tea party movements need to awaken the moral culture of politics and public discourse. A grave danger on the road to that goal is getting stuck in the rut of partisan politics and rhetoric.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. movement was so successful not just because of his commitment to non-violence and the justice of his cause, but also because his words and actions consistently looked to expand the number of people who sympathized with the civil rights movement. He understood the importance of symbols and crafting narratives to reach those outside his crusade for justice. King hardly ever focused on specific legislation or public figures but appealed to greater universal truths and posed deeply moral questions to the Republic.

In his heralded “I Have a Dream” speech, King made no mention of contemporaries, save for a reference to his children and the governor of Alabama. King instead focused on Scripture, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and President Abraham Lincoln. King knew those were powerful symbols for all Americans, and that a massive audience—not just those already in agreement with his ideas—was his target. He borrowed widely from the narratives and promises of America to appeal to this country’s better nature. King’s movement was so transformative, Washington was forced to take notice, and even President Johnson quoted the movement’s anthem “We Shall Overcome,” when he addressed a joint session of Congress in 1965.

King was also a moderating force in the civil rights movement. His non-violent tactics and insistence on not breaking federal court orders, except in extreme cases, were at odds with more radical black leaders. His appeal was also a Christian one that found resonance in the wider American culture.

Tea Party groups should learn from King’s actions precisely because their participants are law abiding and peaceful. There are fundamental truths to their claims, too, because they invoke the better nature of our government given to us by our Founders, just as King did.

Rallies that depict President Barack Obama as totalitarian or as Adolf Hitler undermine the moral witness of tea parties. Tea partiers who show up with semi automatic rifles strapped to their back in open-carry firearm states do likewise. Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Like King’s and other transformative movements, the tea party cause should be focused on winning converts and influencing those who may be opposed to them. All of this may seem difficult without a national leader, but part of its strength is drawing from the already countless leaders who have graced American history. While tea party advocates shouldn’t moderate on principle, they should reject tones of excessive anger and fear.

President Ronald Reagan, for example, was adored not just for his ideas about limited government and freedom, but also because of his sunny personality and optimism. This quality helped Reagan push those ideas back into the mainstream.

Like Reagan, King too was an optimist and embodied a vision. In his 1963 book Strength to Love he said to those seeking justice: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” There is no better truth for tea partiers to build upon.

Acton Media’s second documentary makes its public television debut Sunday, May 2, with a 3-4 p.m. airing on Detroit Public Television (HD channel 56.1). The film trailer is here.

Update: Michigan PBS stations WCMU and WFUM have scheduled the documentary for broadcast on Thursday, June 17, from 10-11 p.m.

Distributed today on Acton News & Commentary:

Human Dignity, Dark Skin and Negro Dialect

by Anthony B. Bradley Ph.D.

Black History Month is a time not only to honor our past but also to survey the progress yet to be made. Why does the black underclass continue to struggle so many years after the civil-rights movement? Martin Luther King dreamt about an America where women and men are evaluated on the basis of character rather than skin color. The fight for equal dignity, however, was derailed by a quest for political clout and “bling.” The goal of equality measured by outcomes, sought by means of government-directed racial inclusion programs, overshadowed the more challenging campaign for true solidarity based on widespread recognition of the inherent dignity of all people.

Beginning in the 1980s, many civil-rights leaders began to identify justice on the basis of social cosmetics, including how much “stuff” blacks did not have compared to whites—size of homes, number of college degrees, income disparities, law school admissions rates, loan approvals, and the like—instead of whether or not blacks were treated as equals in our social structures. Equal treatment by our legal and social institutions may yield unexpected results, but it remains a better measure of justice than coercively creating results we want.

When Democratic Senator Harry Reid spoke the truth about President Obama being particularly electable because he neither had “dark skin” nor used “negro dialect,” it served as a prophetic signal that Americans still struggle to embrace the dignity of many blacks. Reid’s comments expose what many know but would not publically confess: namely, that having a combination of dark skin and “negro dialect” is not only undesirable but also damages one’s prospects for social and economic mobility. After all—some would ask—are not the stereotypical dark-skinned folks with bad English skills the ones having children outside of marriage, dropping out of high school, filling up America’s prison system, murdering each other, and producing materialistic and misogynistic rap music?

Civil-rights leaders would do well to restore the priority of fighting for black dignity so that having dark skin is respected and improving one’s syntax is encouraged. Theologian Nonna Harrison in her 2008 essay, “The Human Person,” offers a clear framework for unlocking human dignity by stressing human freedom, responsibility, love for neighbor, excellence of character, stewardship of creation, and human rationality. Imagine an America where resurgent civil-rights energies were dedicated to creating the conditions that support the life-long process of formation and transformation into citizens who know and love our neighbors, regardless of race or class. Imagine a resurgence of dignity that orders our passions, impulses, and reason to excel in moral character; a resurgence that elevates good stewardship to the status of a social norm; a resurgence that entails sustaining human life in terms of what is good for nature and human society; a resurgence committed to cultivating practical reason, enabling women and men to creatively contribute to the arts and sciences, to economics, politics, business, and culture.

A movement dedicated to fostering dignity in those engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors would have positive spillover effects everywhere: from homes to schools, from streets to the criminal justice system. For example, if freedom, responsibility, and dignity became the new platform for the “advancement of colored people,” black marriage rates would be redirected back to their 1950s levels, when the percentages of white and African-American women who were currently married were roughly the same (67 and 64 percent, respectively). An emphasis on practical reason would foster a return to the notion that education—not sports and entertainment—is your “ticket” out of “da hood.” Imagine an America where what it means to be a black man is to be a morally formed, educated “brutha,” ready to contribute to making the world better.

Decades ago, when the black church was at the center of the black community, these values were deposited from generation to generation. Today, in an era when “justice” means obsession with redistributing wealth rather than restoring dignity, character formation has been abandoned. Disadvantaged blacks are generationally doomed until we recognize that social mobility for those with “dark skin” and “negro dialect” flows from the expansion in tandem of dignity and freedom, not from pursing the siren songs of riches and power.

August 28 at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, the son of a black African delivered a rousing acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. It occurred 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and told America “I have a dream.”

Even Americans unconvinced that the Democratic nominee is the right choice for America should take heart from the fact that half a century after King struggled against vicious, institutionalized racism, the United States has become a place that can fairly consider an African-American for the highest political office in the land.

But if as King urged, we are careful to judge a person not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character, the convergence stretching across 45 years begs a question: Has Barack Obama’s political career embodied Martin Luther King’s dream of justice for all?

King dreamed of a day when his nation would “live out the true meaning” of a creed inscribed in the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The reality is, Barack Obama supports policies that aggressively, even violently undermine that dream.

One might assume I’m referring to the rights of the unborn, and certainly Obama has voted consistently to deny unborn babies the right to life. Obama even blocked modest attempts to end the gruesome practice of partial birth abortion. After the cervix is dilated in this procedure, the baby–who often is old enough to survive outside the womb–is partially delivered, feet first. The abortionist then sticks a needle into the back of the child’s head and suctions out her brains. As an Illinois state senator, Obama twice refused to support a bill banning the practice.

While this is worth noting, I had in view a more startling instance of Senator Obama deviating from Dr. King’s vision of justice for all. Recently California pastor Rick Warren interviewed Obama as part of the Saddleback Forum and, at one point, asked the candidate, “At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?” The senator said that answering the question was “above my pay grade.”

Most of the subsequent media analysis assumed that his answer applied only to unborn babies. But the senator’s voting record tells a different story.

In 2001 and 2002, as an Illinois state senator, Obama repeatedly declined to vote for the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill to protect newborns who survive late-term abortions. Senator Obama has asserted that problems in the wording of the bills drove his decisions not to support this and the partial-birth abortion bills. But in 2003 the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was sent to a committee Obama chaired, giving him the chance to modify anything about the bill he disliked. He never called the bill up for a vote.

Obama has presented himself as a pro-choice moderate. In fact, Obama is far to the left of his own party on the born-alive issue. A similar bill in the U.S. Congress was opposed by only 15 members of the House and was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. The bill was even supported by NARAL Pro-Choice America. This is not surprising: the bill outlaws infanticide. What is surprising is that Senator Obama could not find a way to support the bill.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” But Obama has refused to extend justice, even the most basic human right, to a segment of the youngest children among us.

Some people have tried to minimize the difference between King and today’s abortion-on-demand lobby by pointing to an award King accepted from Planned Parenthood in 1966. But in a Feb. 25 written release, King’s niece, Dr. Alveda Scott King, noted that King accepted the award when “abortion was illegal in every state and before Planned Parenthood started publicly advocating for it.” In Planned Parenthood’s citation for the award, “not only is no mention of abortion made, it states that ‘human life and progress are indeed indivisible.'”

King’s niece added, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the future of his children for personal comfort and safety,’ and, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ There is no way my uncle would condone the violence of abortion, violence that Planned Parenthood has always tried to mask, which brings painful deaths to babies and can result in torn wombs, serious infections, and emotional devastation for their mothers.”

The Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution that followed, called for a limited national government that protected the inalienable rights of its citizens. At least as regards health care, Senator Obama is advocating something quite different: an ever expanding nanny state intimately involved in our medical choices, and yet one unwilling to protect a newborn child’s inalienable right to life.

In his interview with Warren, Obama emphasized that as a nation we “still don’t spend enough time thinking about the least of these.” But who counts as “the least of these”? A newborn who has survived an attempt on her life strikes me as a pretty good candidate.

As the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, it’s time to broaden the discussion of race relations in America to include not just blacks and whites, but Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The long fixation on black-white relations has obscured some important measures of racial progress — or lack of it — in American society, argues Anthony Bradley. “In fact, the greatest impediment to appropriating King’s dream is our unwillingness to move beyond a white social barometer,” he says.

Read the complete commentary here.