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January 12, 2001

The King Legacy

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” These are, perhaps, Martin Luther King’s most remembered and most oft quoted words. That notwithstanding, black Americans in the years since Reverend King’s assassination have increasingly abandoned his dream, and aligned themselves with a leftist political and social agenda obsessed with color at the expense of character.

Nowhere in recent history has that alignment been more evident than in the presidential election just past, when fully 93% of the black vote turned out against Republican nominee George W. Bush – a higher percentage than voted against Bob Dole, the elder Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford or Richard Nixon. The only Democrat to receive a higher percentage of black votes than Al Gore was Lyndon Johnson.

A pincer movement has been squeezing minority support for Conservatives, especially among black Americans. On one side, in the last decade, Demo-goguery has abounded in debates about welfare reform, affirmative action and so-called “hate crimes.” Consider the fates of Rodney King and O.J. Simpson. Consider the message of hate preached by Louis Farrakhan. In today’s vernacular of racial reconciliation, the key themes are atonement and financial reparations assessed by a godless bureaucracy. Bill Clinton has capitalized on such themes, enlisting former King lieutenant Jesse Jackson and his minions – Al Sharpton, Kweisi Mfume, Donna Brazile and Maxine Waters – in a coordinated campaign to retain blacks within Democrat ranks.

And, on the other side, Republicans have retreated from anything resembling a principled universal position on rights and responsibilities. As black conservative Ward Connerly put it, “These race professionals reinforce a victim mentality that cripples many of their fellow blacks and preserves reliance on government and the black power structure. In a contest to show who has more compassion, the GOP would be preaching what blacks wanted to hear, not necessarily what they needed to hear to achieve greater individual freedom and opportunity.”

Connerly noted about his experience with George Bush: “He even distanced himself from backers like me to make sure that he didn’t send the ‘wrong message’ to blacks. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention and (needlessly) portrayed his party as not always sympathetic to black people. He gave Colin Powell a prime-time spot at the GOP convention to bash us opponents of race preferences. And at the end of the day, what did Bush get? What did he have to show for his investment? Nothing – zero, zilch, nada.”

Martin King always preached that black freedom was, before all else, an individual responsibility – not a government responsibility. His message was grounded in a Christian view of each human person as being of equal worth, as each equally bears the image of God; his message was one of love, moral certitude and individual responsibility – not relativism and victimhood. He wrote in his book “Strength to Love”: “At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values. … In contrast to the ethical relativism of [totalitarianism], Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable.”

He wrote further: “There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science…. We have worshiped the god of pleasure…. We have bowed before the god of money…. These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in him that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism.”

Martin Luther King was a controversial man. Though legitimate questions exist about his intellectual and personal integrity, and his relationship with Communist cadres in the 1960s, he was, indeed, a great leader and an inspiring orator. (See links to the text of two of his most prominent essays below.) However great his human flaws – flaws to be judged no more harshly than our own – his message, emphasizing peace and reconciliation, responsibility and character, remains “an idea whose time has come,” as he often quoted Hugo. But it continues to be an idea distorted by those who would use the rhetoric of division as a political stump.

Despite the November voting results, historian Shelby Steele observes, “There is an awful lot of conservative sentiment in black America, but at the moment, the party line is ruthlessly enforced.” Indeed, no dissension is tolerated and black conservatives, such as scholars Steele, Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, are routinely eviscerated by Jackson and his Demo-goguers.

What can change this? Connerly counsels, “When it comes to race in America, leadership requires directly addressing the misconceptions of the flock and the race-baiting of certain shepherds.” And why haven’t leaders done this? Sadly, we can answer that question by going back to Martin King’s most famous statement: because our leaders – and those who have put them in positions of leadership – have such diminished character content that they prefer substituting superficial judgments, like those based on skin color, to avoid a deeper look inward. But we must demand more, both of our leaders and of ourselves, if we are to truly pay honor to King’s life and legacy.

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