Thursday, August 28, 2008

Martin Luther King Was A Republican...Deal With It!!!

On this site and on, the companion site to this one, I have referred more than once to the fact that Martin Luther King was a registered Republican. The articles I posted attracted a lot of attention. My normally lethargic site site meter jumped about 260 hits above normal , which is still impressive for my blogs.
I looked to see where my articles were being posted and found this comment at the bottom of the re posted article by a gentleman named "ctdad"
" how nice..." said ctdad,"exploitation of a Great Civil Rights leader just to make a point and am sure being Black had nothing to do with him being there...You don't like or support Obama, that's fine...but to exploit MLK to qualify your position is utterly pathetic.."
Where do I begin with such a comment? Up until now, the Democrats have benefited from a view of American history in which the Democrats were the defenders of the workers and the downtrodden. It was automatically assumed that those who cared about civil rights were Democrats. I also assumed that MLK was a Democrat. The fact that he was a registered Republican is not a matter of debate. It is a hard fact.
To draw a map of the US that divides it by political party leaves out much critical information. In some parts of the country, it is the Republicans who are more liberal and the Democrats more conservative. Lester Maddox, George Wallace and Bull Connor were all Democrats. To understand what makes the Democrats in Mississippi and Georgia different from Democrats in New York requires an excursion into history. The Democrats were in fact pro slavery. The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln. in 1912, forty seven years after the end of the Civil War, it was Democrat Woodrow Wilson who purged the Federal government of African American employees. The Federal troops sent to Little Rock, Arkansas to desegregate the schools there were sent by a Republican, Dwight David Eisenhower. One may certainly question the motives and private opinions of players in history. Richard Nixon is on record as having private feelings of antipathy to Jews. Despite this, he is viewed with gratitude by Jews in Israel and America for his aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur war. He extended this aid with few Jewish voters expressing their gratitude to Nixon at the polls. Nixon came to Israel's aid in the Yom Kippur war against the advice of his Jewish Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. I mention this to point out that personal feelings, political support and economic progress are separate domains that do not progress evenly.
History is not only a recounting of the past. It is in part a political statement and also a work in progress. When information is declassified and data crunched, events are often viewed differently in retrospect. In my neighbourhood of Crown Heights , Herbert Hoover is viewed with reverence for his aid in freeing the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe from death row in a Soviet
prison. In addition, Hoover's direction of relief efforts during the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921 are remembered with gratitude. Franklin Roosevelt is regarded with a singular lack of fondness by many Jews who spent the war years in Europe. It is noted that he refused to order the bombing of the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz. In Jewish circles, there is heated debate of many aspects of World War Two history. I mention Jewish history in connection with the discussion of the civil rights movement simply to point out the evolutionary process through which our view of the past passes. New information comes to light and old information is forgotten. Information is hand picked and sometimes selectively presented. Amnesia can be willful. One's position in society imparts a particular angle of bias. The opinions and perspectives of different classes of society need to be blended to get the whole picture.
CTDAD accuses me of wrongly using the memory of Martin Luther King to advance my own political agenda. In doing this he seems to implicitly impute to King a set of views far closer to his own. Far too often is history taught as a time line and a dry recitation of facts. Properly taught, history should start impassioned arguments as the protagonists of the past come to life in the classroom. King was not an iconic profile. He was not a carefully crafted communique or party operative. He was a complex individual who would seem contradictory when viewed through the prism of our contemporary political bias. Though he was a Republican, he passionately opposed American involvement in Vietnam. He took this position out of principle. In so doing he alienated President Johnson who referred to him as "that Nigger preacher." I wonder if Dr. King's Southern Baptist religious foundation could have served as a cornerstone for a multiracial socially conservative coalition for faith based work for social progress. There is no reason such hopes should die with Dr. King.
I do not believe that King should be regarded with an aura of infallibility. Along with many others,I took part in the anti-war movement. In a moral sense, I believe I share collective guilt in enabling the Cambodian genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Chinese minority from Vietnam. Many Americans would opine that MLK was wrong about Vietnam. In any case, King's struggle for racial equality was critical to the evolution of America's national character. History is the struggle of imperfect men to achieve collective and individual perfection.
I am glad that "ctdad" vented his anger at me on the MSN bulletin board. The ethnic groups and interest groups that shape the history of a nation pass their memories on to new generations. These descendants of the original players in our nation's ongoing drama retain their inherited memories, seasoned and softened in the collective mainstream. History should properly be viewed as separate strands of narrative complexly braided into a coherent pattern. When history becomes a debate, an argument or a dialogue, I have far more faith that it is being taught correctly.
Iconic history reduces common people to the level of spectators. Historical figures viewed with their complexity and imperfections can impart to us the wisdom and courage to go forward to shape history and make some mistakes along the way.
So thank you, ctdad for bringing some passion to the discussion of the King legacy. If our discussion is impassioned, it shows me that in a sense that Dr. King still lives and that like him we care about the future.

National Association of Black Republicans

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