Dishonoring MLK's Legacy

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Dishonoring MLK's Legacy

What do Beck, Palin, and the NRA have to do with the 1963 March on Washington?

by
Dedrick Muhammad

This year's anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington promises to be memorable.Though big commemorations aren't typical for 47th anniversaries, thousands will be in the streets on August 28 commemorating the march, including many people advancing a social agenda that would make Martin Luther King Jr. roll over in his grave.

Flamboyant talk-show host Glenn Beck has called for a national rally on the anniversary at the exact same location as the historic protest, the Lincoln Memorial. Beck's rally theme is "Restoring Honor." According to his website, this "celebration of America" won't be political. Well then, why have Sarah Palin scheduled to deliver the keynote speech, and why is the National Rifle Association endorsing this right-wing spectacle?

From what I can gather, these folks think that America can restore its honor by strengthening individual virtue, especially if enough people come to Washington on Aug. 28 to listen to inflammatory speeches. Or pick up copies of Beck's new book "The Plan," which he'll launch at this absurd event.

What do Beck, Palin, and the NRA have to do with the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the landmark "I Have a Dream" speech? Nothing. Beck has admitted not realizing that the legendary March occurred on Aug. 28. He credits "divine providence" for having his rally/book launch converge with such a historic event. Beck now proclaims that he is working "to finish the job" that was at the heart of King's poetic vision.

Glenn Beck claims that King's ideas have been corrupted and that he will resurrect MLK's true spirit. Beck's revisionist history discards King's emphasis on social justice, instead emphasizing individual Christian salvation. Beck even reached out to King's distant relatives, including a niece. After questioning her several times, he got her to say that King was not about social justice or government redistribution of the wealth.

To grasp MLK's legacy, it's best to read King's own words. No one can believe Beck's interpretation of King's legacy if they review a speech delivered four months after the March on Washington, in which King said, "We're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

 If Glenn Beck sincerely wants to advance the Dr. King's vision and the March on Washington's legacy, he could go to Detroit on Aug. 28. There Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of King's lead organizers, and the United Auto Workers (the union was one of the main sponsors of the 1963 March on Washington) will kick off a campaign to rebuild America with jobs, justice, and peace. Unlike Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally/book launch, the Detroit march will echo the civil rights movement's call to invest in opportunity for all Americans.

If Beck doesn't want to leave Washington, he should visit the "Celebrate the Dream" event near his own rally. There, Americans will read and listen to the words of Dr. King in a more appropriate tribute. Finally, since Beck apparently likes to talk to members of Dr. King's family, he should visit the "Reclaim the Dream" rally that day. Martin Luther King III will join other leaders there to commemorate King's authentic social justice vision.

There's nothing virtuous or honorable in trying to appropriate the legacy of a man who gave his life for his beliefs. Instead of proclaiming "divine providence" upon learning of this scheduling blunder, Beck should have admitted his own ignorance and held his own rally with his own plan, as his vision for America has nothing in common with King's. It's not too late for Beck to change course. If he does, it could even mark the first step to the virtuous action that Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally/book launch is supposed to advocate.

Dedrick Muhammad is a research associate for the Inequality and the Common Good project at the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of the upcoming book "Racial Inequality in the Obama Era."

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