Monday, January 11, 2010

Pull Together or Parish

Pull Together or Perish
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
January 11-19, 2010

We rightfully honor this week the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would be his 80th birthday. Much of what Dr. Martin Luther King espoused is now being denounced by the words and actions of so-called, “good Americans.” Dr. King called for a radical restructuring of American values to eliminate all “isms”—racism, sexism, militarism, and imperialism.

There is no better guide than history in understanding Dr. King and his influence on American society is the 21st Century. As I passed the historic memorials of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson en route to my Washington, DC office ground crews were beginning the excavation process for Dr. King’s memorial—the first dedicated by the United States government to an African American. Historic irony places Dr. King’s Memorial between that of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

As we should remember, President Lincoln was a “Radical” who campaigned for, and signed legislation to abolish slavery in the United States via the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (and after death influenced the passage of the 1865 13th Amendment which abolished slavery for the entire nation). For a White politician to advocate for slavery’s end—regardless of his actual motives—was quite courageous and worthy of global respect and honor. Lincoln warned of the perils of an American “house divided.”

The 16th President was assassinated immediately following the end of the American Civil War. In 1877, as economic hardships humbled the rebellious south, the Ku Klux Klan was formed by ex-Confederate officers and soldiers in Pulaski, Tennessee. But his legacy endures.

On the other hand, President Jefferson was a “moderate/liberal” and wrote with egalitarian eloquence, but his record of governance was wrought with racial restrictions of humanity and citizenship (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). He hypocritically espoused that “…all men are created equal…” while enslaving African Americans. Upon learning of the Haitian Revolution in which Toussaint L’Overture defeated the armies of France, England, and the American Colonies for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness Jefferson feared that Africans enslaved in America would also revolt. The result is over 200 years of forced poverty in Haiti by the United States, France, and England. America’s promise of equality was limited under Jeffersonian Democracy. While Jefferson expanded the nations borders by the Louisiana Purchase (a direct result from the Haitian Revolution) he did not expand the ideals of racial tolerance and inclusion.

Dr. King, however, in his 1963 seminal speech at the Lincoln Memorial challenged the American people to live up to its promise of equal opportunity for all. He stood before the likeness of Lincoln and quoted Jefferson to make this nation a more perfect union. Moreover, his passion for progressive public policy is still felt today by way of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which granted ALL Americans equal opportunity.

The point is that If America is to truly honor Dr. King we should affix our national eyes to the policy prize by enacting legislation that comports with Dr. King’s five requirements for American democracy:
1. A job for every American
2. An income for every American
3. Health care for every American
4. Housing for every American
5. Quality education for every American

In light of the racially-charged rhetoric of “moderates” such as Senate leader Harry Reid (“…president Obama was electable partly due to not have a ‘Negro’ dialect…”) and former President Clinton (referring to then candidate Obama “…5 years ago this guy would have been serving us coffee…”) in which they both articulated—wittingly or otherwise—words of White supremacists, the greater point is whether either supports legislation in keeping with King’s policy positions. By their record the answer is no.

Frederick Douglas was profound when he said 150 years ago:

There is no Negro Problem. The question is whether the American people have the honor, loyalty, and patriotism to live out their Constitution.

For America to live out its Constitution monumental legislation must be strengthened and enacted. Courageous people of all colors (particularly White) must challenge “Tea Baggers” as well as “moderates” who do not supports the rights of all Americans, and not just the White and wealthy. Not to do so is un-American and unworthy of Dr. King’s legacy. Dr. King challenged us all to pull together as brothers (and sisters) or perish as fools.

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