[Documents menu] Documents menu

From: "Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics)" <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu>
To: "'JVP@JAngel.com'" <JVP@JAngel.com>
Subject: Another comment on King's legacy
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 12:09:56 -0500

Dreams, nightmares and reality

By Sean Gonsalves, Cape Cod Times sgonsalves@capecodonline.com, 18 January 2000

In schools, teachers pay homage to his "dream" and preachers sermonize in the pulpit about his Christian example. Our federal government, under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, declared King the only non-president to be honored with a national holiday, making the slain freedom-soldier one of only four human beings to be memorialized by Uncle Sam. (Washington, Lincoln and Jesus are the others).

Even corporate America has jumped on the King bandwagon - Coca-Cola and McDonald's, anyway - reminding us to "keep the dream alive." You've made it Martin. You are a corporate-sponsored American myth.

Sadly, all of the above-mentioned mind shapers - with scarce exception - put forward a sugar-coated, superficial view of the life and legacy of arguably the greatest American apostle of non-violence.

I'm no King scholar, but I've been studying his life for the past 17 years - since I was 12 years old! And I'm telling you, most "educated" Americans know next to nothing about one of the most revered icons of the 20th century.

But "I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream....I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of" Martin's creed. It is a creed deeply rooted in the biblical dream, which is why Reverend King quoted Amos 5:24: "Let judgment run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Last week, I heard a local talk-radio head, who loves to talk about the "dumbing down of America," wondering if the Vatican's consideration of King becoming an official Church martyr is going "too far" - confusing the concept of martyrdom.

If clear thinking is a qualification for talk radio, which it apparently isn't, then this brother is a good argument for affirmative action. The most qualified applicant is wondering if King is a true martyr? Clearly, this radio rambler sees a radical division between "private faith" and the struggle for freedom.

I have a dream that one day, even on the radio waves that travel across the shores of Cape Cod, radio talk-show hosts will at least consider that Christian faith and social justice are inextricably linked.

Proverbs 14:31 says: "He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoreth him hath mercy on the poor." Luke 4:18 quotes Jesus as saying: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are oppressed; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

The "acceptable year of the Lord," according to the late prominent New Testament scholar John Yoder, is a reference to the year of jubilee, which any biblically literate person knows is an institutionalized social policy that redistributes wealth and property in the name of social justice as commanded by God in the Torah.

Another scholar notes that in the "Old Testament, the right to property was in principle subordinated to the obligation to care for the weaker members of society."

In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 25, teaching that social justice is the measure by which God will judge the nations! That's what King was assassinated for: putting his life on the line, trying to "let Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Is King a martyr?

I have a dream today, that in a world where white kids fawn over a dark-skinned black man like Michael Jordan and purchase more rap music than blacks, they can be exposed to a relevant King lesson. For example, his concept of the "beloved community" - an idea that transcends race and critiques capitalism and militarism.

I have a dream that one day, in the ivory towers of right-wing think-tanks, even conservative scholars - their "lips dripping with interposition and nullification" - will stop using King's "content of our character" phrase to argue against affirmative action when they know good-and-damned well that months before King was killed he called for such a program in his last book: "Where Do We Go From Here?"

I have a dream that one day politicians will be unable to keep a straight face while paying lip-service to King's dream as they order the bombing of nations like Iraq in the name of some vague "national interest," which everyone knows is double-speak for corporate interest.

Free at last? Not long before he died, King said the "civil rights movement" was only "phase one" of the struggle. Are you ready for phase two?

Let the birthday boy have the last word: "I am convinced," King said, "that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos."

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email: sgonsalves@capecodonline.com