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Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy (Official) Birthday, Dr. King

In a 1999 special that was re-run on HBO not too long ago, Chris Rock jokingly quipped, in referring to the media coverage of the "assassinations" of artists such as Tupac Shakur, that it isn't really an "assassination" unless your birthday is a national holiday. Well, on this, the official celebration of what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 77th birthday (yesterday was the actual date), Taylor Branch's op-ed in today's New York Times remembering his biographer's subject is worth reading...

Quoting extensively from King's own words, Branch concludes with the following observation:

Only hours before his death, Dr. King startled an aide with a balmy aside from his unpopular movement to uplift the poor. "In our next campaign," he remarked, "we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international."

The nation would do well to incorporate this goal into our mission abroad, reinforcing the place of nonviolence among the fundamentals of democracy, along with equal citizenship, self-government and accountable public trust. We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past.

What I found most moving about Branch's piece is the not-so-subtle reminder of the centrality that nonviolence played in Dr. King's work, a point often lost on "our" generation. In Dr. King's own words (as badly misquoted in a fifth-season West Wing episode):

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Happy birthday, Dr. King.

Posted by Steve Vladeck on January 16, 2006 at 03:03 AM in Steve Vladeck | Permalink


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Please check out our attempt to respond to Dr. King's call to take nonviolence international.


Posted by: Josh Kaufman-Horner | Feb 7, 2006 3:57:53 PM

Since I'm a labor law guy, I'll pass along these MLK quotes re unions:

* Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth. AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961

* At the turn of the century women earned approximately ten cents an hour, and men were fortunate to receive twenty cents an hour. The average work week was sixty to seventy hours. During the thirties, wages were a secondary issue; to have a job at all was the difference between the agony of starvation and a flicker of life. The nation, now so vigorous, reeled and tottered almost to total collapse. The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over our nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965

* When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it is called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it is called a Depression.

We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you're not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you're getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they've brought it up...that isn't menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages. Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, March 1968

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jan 16, 2006 11:30:06 AM

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