Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 03:40:29 -0700 (PDT)
From: Earl Ofari Hutchinson <>
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Why I Vote For King As Person of the Century

Why I Vote For King As Person of the Century

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D <>, 7 July 1999

The editors of Time Magazine will pick a Person of the Century to grace their cover in January 2000. Martin Luther King, Jr. is in the running for the top honor along with Hitler, Einstein, Elvis, Churchill and Gandhi, but just barely. The reason for this is that the editors of Time probably swallow one of the huge myths of history. They, like much of the public, narrowly label King a black leader, a civil rights leader, or say that he simply imitated Gandhi.

It is true that King was an ardent student of Gandhi’s preachments of non-violent resistance and non-accommodation to injustice. But he took his teacher’s message and refined, broadened and stretched it into a global moral imperative for all humankind. That moral imperative went way beyond the limits of the civil rights movement.

When he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, King staked out the moral high ground for the infant modern day civil rights movement. It was classic good versus evil. Many white Americans were sickened by the gory news scenes of baton welding racist Southern sheriffs, firehoses, police dogs, and Klan violence unleashed against peaceful black protesters. King made it possible, even obligatory, for millions of persons throughout the world to condemn racial segregation as immoral and indefensible. The civil rights movement spurred students and workers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to oppose the military strongmen, dictators and demagogues in their countries. He inspired liberation priests in Latin America, and student demonstrators in Europe. He deeply influenced the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela has repeatedly said that he owes a profound debt of gratitude to King.

Mandela is not the only major leader to say that. Caesar Chavez, an icon in his own right, has championed the farmworkers and labor organizing struggles flatly stated that King was his teacher. Nearly all of the main anti-war leaders expressed their debt of gratitude to King. They recognized that his brave and outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war and militarism gave a huge boost to the anti-war movement. The leaders of the gay rights, and women’s movements also owe a debt of gratitude to King. They were inspired by him and borrowed heavily from the tactics of the civil rights movement.

King’s moral vision and reach extended far beyond the questions of war, and peace and racial injustice. He also saw that true democracy could never be realized without economic justice for the poor. The key was wealth redistribution and economic restructuring. He pounded away on the need to end class oppression and poverty. His Poor Peoples March in 1968 was a flawed, but sincere effort to bring the poor of all races together in that common fight for economic justice.

The red-baiters and professional King haters tagged him a Communist. The Lyndon Johnson White House turned hostile. Corporate and foundation supporters slowly turned off the money spigot. But he refused to back down. He slung even more moral imperatives at America for its mindless descent into materialism and violence.

Thirty-one years after his murder his name still resonates on the battlefield of human rights. School children everywhere still enthusiastically write about him. His writings, and speeches on religion, ethics, morality, and social problems are still widely quoted.

During much of this past decade, liberals, and minorities and conservatives jockeyed hard to claim that the few stray remarks that King uttered on affirmative action before it was even called affirmative action backed their embrace or hatred of it. All were anxious to drape themselves in his mantle. And in one of life’s perverse ironies conservative Republicans owe a debt of gratitude to King. They parlayed the white backlash that King and the civil rights movement triggered into a national resurgence.

The civil rights and voting rights legislation, increased civil liberties protections, and the vast array of social and educational programs of the past thirty years permanently transformed American society and enriched the lives of millions of Americans of all races and income groups. The social and political remake of America was the direct by-product of the King led civil rights movement.

The moral contradictions and inconsistencies between King’s public image and private life style have piled up since his assassination in 1968. King has been accused of plagiarism, purveying smut, and engaging in sexual hijinks. But King never wavered on one thing. He pledged that he would struggle and sacrifice until racism, poverty and injustice were, as he put it, crushed by the battering rams of justice. He more than kept that pledge. This is why I am writing the editors at Time to tell them that he should be the Person of the Century.