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Sunday, January 13

Clinton's remarks insult Dr. King's legacy

As the Martin Luther King holiday approaches, now is the time to bring to mind Dr. King's commitment to equality, justice, and social change. Many of you may have heard Hillary Clinton's remarks last Monday that referred to King's role in the Civil Rights Movement:

“I would point to the fact that that Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done,” she said. “That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it and actually got it accomplished.”

I find this sweeping comment gravely insulting. To say that "Dr King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act" completley overlooks the initiative Dr. King took to lead a movement so that the act could be passed in the first place. To say that it "took a president to get it done" minimizes the monumental role that King played in the Civil Rights movement and disregards the power that lies with the PEOPLE to push for social change.

The New York Times has an article today that goes into detail about the ramifications of her comment since last Monday. Note in this article that the primary figure in Hillary's defense is the founder of Black Entertainment Television, which I find to be more than a little bit ironic. Furthermore, he made a cheap shot at Obama's history of drug use (which Obama candidly wrote about in his first book in 1995) and then later passes his comment off as a reference to Obama's "community organizing." (You can read further details in the above article.)

The legacy of Dr. King should be regarded with much more respect than this. While Clinton was clearly trying to promote her own agenda and suggest that she as a president will make change in our country, she certainly made a huge mistake with this comment. Now the question is whether it will cost her votes in South Carolina.

ALSO: Stay tuned for tomorrow's LUCAP meeting, the theme of which will be the radical side of Martin Luther King.


Bob Payne said...

I don't believe her comments were offensive, or even insensitive. She stated that "It took a President to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it and actually got it accomplished.”
She has a very valid point about how important issues need to be changed within the system. MLK's work not only put civil rights on the national agenda, but also probably forced LBJ to support it. But if there was a President unfriendly to civil rights--that is, nearly any other Southern politician at the time--then the acts would not have gotten passed. LBJ had to jump through legislative and political hoops to get civil rights pushed through Congress.
Her view doesn't have to degrade MLK's work at all. No activist--and no visionary like MLK--would say that his work alone, or even just the work of civil rights organizers and volunteers alone, are responsible for the increased civil rights African-Americans have. LBJ played the dominant role in actually pushing through the legislation. Without his political skill, the civil rights laws of 64 and the voting rights act would not have passed in the way that they did.
A former LBJ aide sums up this argument with far more historical detail than I possess.

Rob Harman said...

You know what I'm going to agree with Bob on this one. We have to look at what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 actually was. It was a bill in congress, bills in congress don't get passed by well spoken Black civil rights activists. They get passed by wealthy white elected officials. The civil rights act was a request to elected officials to give Black people some rights. There for the only people who can fufill that request where the people who it was made to. The politicians, politicans like LBJ.

This arguement to me has brought more attention and light to a problem I have always seen in America's view of the civil rights movement. We often like to distort history in many ways. I understand the point of Clinton's comments sort of degrading MLK's achievements. But in many ways at the same time we are degrading everyone elses achievements by obsessing over MLK. Perhaps it is his appeal to White liberals, his perceived moderacy, his eloquent and articulate speeches, whatever it is, modern day America has put MLK on a pedistal. But how many of us have actually read his speeches? How many of us have studied his influence on movements? How many of us have studied his failures and accomplishments? Few and far between can say yes to those questions. And a horribly smaller number can say they have done the same to other civil rights leaders.

To me the problem more insulting, offensive, and insensitive to the Black freeom struggle is the lack of knowledge of any leader besides MLK. It's the attention MLK has gotten when we hardly have heard about the hundreds who died during his time period. The insulting lack of knowledge of the struggle in Lowndes County, or Albany Georgia. The lack of attention leaders like Ella Baker, Stokley Carmichael, Medgar Evers, the countless community organizers who were murdered, beaten, or wrongfully imprisoned. That is what we should worry about, not which canidate disrespects MLK the most.