By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, Published 01/17/10
I can’t help but think that Martin Luther King, Jr. would not be very happy with us today. After all, so many of the principles that were dear to him and gave his life purpose are not held with the same regard that they were when he was enlightening a divided culture.
He taught, for example, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” He wasn’t all that keen on welfare programs, and yielding our personal responsibility and accountability to the state.
He probably wouldn’t have been too supportive of the identity politics going on these days, either, where politicians sell out to special interests for votes, rather than doing what’s best for the nation. For as he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
I think he would be supportive of the peaceful and principled “Tea Party” revolts against a government seeking to diminish individual liberty and exact oppressive taxation on the productive members of society. As he said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Certainly those are wise words of encouragement to those of us who object to the direction the country is headed now.
As further evidence of his support for the “Tea Party” cause, he once said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Individual and universal freedom was everything to him, without regard to ethnicity, and advocated freedom, as opposed to government programs that diminish the freedom to build, achieve, be rewarded for those achievements, and succeed.
On another occasion he said, “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.”
Echoing those immortal words of the father of the modern conservative movement, Edmund Burke, who said “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
King was a highly principled man, driven by truths and fundamental values. He referred often to those values. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.” Some of those values were the very foundational principles upon which the nation was founded, that he found lacking in their application to all American equally. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I think Martin Luther King would have concurred with Morgan Freeman a few years ago in a “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace. Wallace started out, “Black History Month, you find…”, Freeman interjected, “Ridiculous.” The interview continued.
FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
WALLACE: Come on.
FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.
WALLACE: I’m Jewish.
FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
WALLACE: There isn’t one.
FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?
WALLACE: No, no.
FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until...?
FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, ‘I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.’ Hear what I’m saying?”
That sounds a lot like what Martin Luther King said, that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And for that, we honor you and your work, and strive to that end.