The late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, but today is the day we officially celebrate his birthday and his legacy. Sadly, today we see a lot of people trying to usurp and distort his legacy for their own ends. Just this weekend, I saw an article using his late career call for a universal basic wage to argue that if he were alive today, he’d be joining the radicals pushing to turn America socialist. I’ve also seen cartoon memes showing the Rev. King attacking or putting his hands over the mouth of President Trump. Things like this are demeaning and disrespectful, but worse, they pervert everything that this great man stood for in his lifetime.
I am old enough to have lived through that era, in the South. I saw the evils of racism firsthand, and I was greatly inspired by the Rev. King’s example to do everything I could to oppose it. I think that some of the greatest and most inspirational words ever spoken were these, from his famous “I Have A Dream” speech:
“I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers…I have a dream…that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
Today, many of the same people who seek to use his image and reputation to further their agendas are doing everything they can to destroy his dream of a colorblind America. They want to impose the dogma of “intersectionality,” charting each person on a graph of race and gender, assigning a relative position of “oppressor” and “oppressed” based entirely on identity groups, not the content of the individuals’ characters. This is a sick and divisive pursuit, and the very opposite of what Rev. King preached.
Note that I used the word “preached,” because that is what he did. He wasn’t just a great speaker or civil rights activist, he was a great preacher and a devout Christian. Again, many today seek to wrap themselves in his legacy even as they attack others for holding the same Biblical beliefs that he did.
And worst of all, they claim Dr. King’s legacy while feeling hatred of all who disagree with them and expressing it in violence. This was morally repugnant when it was done to Rev. King, and it is just as repugnant today, no matter which side of the political divide it arises from. The Bible tells us, in Isiah 1:18, “Come, let us reason together…” It’s something that means so much to me that I have it on a plaque in my office, and I make sure it’s visible in every TV appearance. Differences of opinion are fine. Hating someone for being different is not.
Here is what Rev. King had to say about that (and yes, this is from a sermon and it quotes Jesus, so I guess they can’t teach it in public schools):
“Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater...When you start hating anybody, it destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love everybody. Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life. So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.”
Since we now have an official day to reflect on the words, deeds and legacy of the Rev. King, I hope that all Americans will actually do just that. This isn’t just another excuse to take a day off. I can’t imagine the Rev. King would have approved of doing that in his name.
His life was not about taking days off, but taking evils on. Evils like injustice, racism, double standards and persecution. His life was about taking the heat for trying to change attitudes and the culture. He might be amused that banks that once refused to give a loan to a man of color are now closed in honor of a man of color; that a government that once spied on his private life shuts down to remember him; and that schools that once would have barred his children now dedicate a day of study to his life.
As the country takes a day off to remember Dr. King, let’s also let it be a day on. On for being kind to others; on for not reacting in anger or violence to those who disagree with us; and on to working hard to serve others and once again aim for achieving the real dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: a world where people are “judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”