January 18, 2002

January 18, 2002 | WebMemo on Political Thought

The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. ... Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ... We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. .... Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

President George W. Bush's most recent appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Peter Kirsanow, says the attitude of those in the civil rights movement must change for minorities to gain greater success in America.

"Nothing profound really has been uttered in the name of civil rights since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. over 30 years ago, and the reason is largely one of attitude," Kirsanow said while delivering a lecture at The Heritage Foundation. "Martin Luther King, Jr. had an uplifting, inspiring attitude that resonated then as it resonates today. ... But since Martin Luther King, Jr., the sounds that you hear emanating in the civil rights debate have almost invariably been the distinct sounds of a loser."

Watch Kirsanow's lecture in full. [Transcript will be available soon.]

In 1993, Robert Woodson and Bill Bennett teamed up to deliver a Heritage lecture recognizing The Conservative Virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King.

By way of introduction, then Heritage Vice President Adam Meyerson said, "Conservatives did not, and do not, agree with all of Dr. King's political positions. In particular, we think Dr. King looked too much to government, too much to the welfare state, and not sufficiently to entrepreneurial capitalism, to win economic opportunity for African-Americans. But there was a deeply conservative message throughout Dr. King's life and work, and we are fortunate today to have with us two distinguished speakers who will talk about the conservative virtues of Dr. King."

Woodson said:

It is Dr. King's attempt to bring forward this message that I remember most. Many of the civil rights leaders who have followed him no longer refer to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the basis of their message. Instead, they have embraced poverty programs. Instead, they have secularized the movement. They have told young people that they should be exempt from responsibility: It is OK to become fathers and mothers before you become women and men, because you have been a victim of discrimination. It is OK for you to kill and maim one another -- after all, you are a victim of society. As a consequence of this drumbeat of despair -- this drumbeat of victimization -- we have the kind of decline and despair that exists today.

And Bennett said:

Lots of people will be invoking the memory of Dr. King this weekend and Monday. And they will be invoking him as a kind of saint. He is a saint, but one wants him to be more than a saint. And that is, to take him seriously. He will be talked about in the next three days as a source of inspiration, but my guess is, by many who say they speak for him, he will be regarded as a source of inspiration rather than a source of wisdom. And they will talk about the figure of Dr. King, and what he meant and started, but they won't take his words seriously today. I think that he still has a lot to teach us. That is why I put two of his major speeches in my [B]ook [of Virtues].

Resources:

For more see Roger Clegg's piece, Being Kingly: Do you share Dr. King's vision?, at National Review Online.

The King Center, created by his widow Coretta Scott King, "is a nonprofit organization that educates the world about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy and methods of nonviolence in order to create the Beloved Community."

The Martin Luther King Papers Project, Stanford University

The Seattle Times has compiled resources on the civil rights leader, including a timeline.

Read about King and his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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