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Monday, January 17, 2011

We Should Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday set aside to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the country's most prominent civil rights leaders. Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968, and the holiday was first observed in 1986. In 1994, Congress also designated it as a national day of service
A video posted on, the U.S. government website dedicated to the day, quotes King: "He who is greatest among you shall be a servant. That's the new definition of greatness. ... By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."

So, on this 25th observance, what are some national headlines that make people question the reality of complete racial harmony?

The NAACP has accused Maine Governor Paul LePage of inflaming "racial tension" Friday after the governor turned down a request to attend the group's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations and subsequently told his critics to "kiss my butt." 

The Republican governor had declined an invitation to attend the NAACP's MLK dinner in Portland on Sunday night and the MLK breakfast in Orono on Monday because of prior commitments. Asked about the decision, LePage told a reporter that the NAACP is a "special interest ... and I'm not going to be held hostage by any special interests." ("NAACP, Maine Governor Spar Over Decision to Skip MLK Day Festivities,", January 14 2011)

In another story creating controversy, a local school board member and radio station owner under fire for airing an inflammatory editorial denouncing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has had his concealed carry permit revoked after he threatened a rival radio station owner to a "shootout."

Brett Reese, who has been airing an editorial four times daily on his station KELS-FM (Greeley, Colorado) denouncing slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. as a degenerate embezzler, a "plastic god" and "an America-hating communist," is also facing retribution from the school board on which he serves.
The Mountain States Anti-Defamation League has asked Reese to stop broadcasting the editorial, which contains statements that appear verbatim on a website with links to a white supremacist group.

The broadcaster remains unrepentant and defiant in the wake of community outcry."Facts are facts, truth is truth," he said, adding that he might pre-empt other programing to air the editorial round the clock. The 40-year-old former carpenter claims he helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity in the Mississippi Delta and once dated an African American woman. He insists he's not racist.

Reese also said he's not trying to become a lightning rod for debate over the holiday. "That's not what my push is. I think it's important for people to discuss any issue openly, freely and without being assassinated or bankrupted." (P. Solomon Banda, "Brett Reese, Greeley School Board Member, Blasts MLK Day," The Huffington Post, January 17 2011)

I wonder what Dr. King would think about the state of racial equality today. In 2011, it seems everyone has feelings about the national day of reverence, and their strong attitudes surface on or near the holiday. Many news stories and much rhetoric do not serve to honor the wonderful accomplishments of King; instead, the headlines feature controversy about the continued judgments concerning the observance. I find this unsettling but accurate about the present state of racial equality in America. America still has a long, hard road ahead before Dr. King's "dream" is realized. Old and new civil rights issues are at hand.

What Would Martin Say?

Resistance in the face of love is futile. The federal holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day set aside to
promote equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their background. Granted, the day honors the man, but more importantly it commemorates the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

Coretta Scott King ( stated the following concerning the meaning of the observance:

"On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America."

Americans must see fit to pause today to consider the God-given gift of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a man of incredible conviction dedicated to nonviolence, King became a martyr for the civil rights movement. Let each Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be faithful to the spirit and love of the man, not an opportunity for discord. Dr. King used the following words to describe his feelings. The power and distinct sincerity of his address serve as beacons of hope for understanding topics that remain relevant today..

Ugly History In America

"Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten....America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness--justice." --Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967.

"All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on." --Martin Luther King, Jr., I've Been to the Mountaintop, 1968.

Unearned Suffering and Redemption

"My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation, which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive." --Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

Effects of Hatred

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. --Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.                                                    

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true." --Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963. 

Love and Power  In  Co-existence  

"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." --Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967. 

Separation of Blacks and Whites

"In the final analysis the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man. However much we may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white paths, and there is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity We are bound together in a single garment of destiny." --Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?


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