Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or perhaps we need to reference a more complex emotional term than just “happy.”
I didn’t recall, until I just looked it up, that the Rev. King gave his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech very close to the 100th anniversary of the date in 1863 on which President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. King actually started the speech with a reference to this fact, and to the fact that he was speaking near the Lincoln Memorial.
In the almost 55 years since then, our nation has undoubtedly made progress toward legal racial equality, but King’s dream certainly has not yet fully come true. And progress has stalled since the election of the most racially bigoted president since at least Woodrow Wilson. (Wilson tried to explain to the most prominent civil rights leader of his time that the segregation of federal agencies in his administration was a benefit to the blacks.)
Two of King’s close aides testified on at least two of the Sunday morning shows, with the nation buzzing over Trump’s recent statements characterizing a wide array of nonwhite nations as “shitholes.”
On ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who took beatings from police during his years as a King lieutenant, passed his judgment on Trump: “I think he is a racist … we have to stand up, we have to speak up, and not try to sweep it under the rug.”
But on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Andrew Young, another veteran civil rights leader and King lieutenant, (who went on to serve as a congressman, a mayor, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) was asked directly whether Trump was a racist. Young, replied:
I’m of the opinion that we were born in a very complex, multicultural situation. I prefer to use the term ethno-centrism. Because it goes way back and it doesn’t help to put the label on any single person. Dr. King said we were born in an unjust world. And none of us can take any virtue about being born black, white, liberal, or conservative. …
One of the things [King] said … which was quoted by the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, last night at the King dinner, was that … “nothing is more dangerous in all the world than sincere ignorance and enthusiastic stupidity.
As a former diplomat, Young managed to decline to call anyone including the current incumbent explicitly a racist, just to imply that certain individuals were sincerely ignorant and enthusiastically stupid, but he didn’t mention any names.
Finally, since I mentioned the Emancipation Proclamation above, and since I am a history nerd, and even though I am a big Lincoln admirer, I have to mention a slightly inconvenient fact, which is that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862-63 (it was issued in November of 1862, in the middle of the Civil War, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 1863) did not end slavery in our nation and did not actually free any slaves, at least not immediately. Slavery was protected by the Constitution and a constitutional amendment was needed to really get rid of it.
The proclamation was merely an executive order, and even as such would have exceeded the president’s authority if there had not been a war on. Lincoln issued it under his commander-in-chief powers as a measure to weaken the Confederacy. It applied only to states that were in rebellion. (Several of the northernmost slave states did not secede, so it didn’t apply to them) and Lincoln delayed its application in hopes that some more slave states might end their rebellion before the effective date of the proclamation, in order to maintain slavery. None did.
In the midst of the fighting in the South, the proclamation did provide an additional incentive to slaves in the Confederate states to escape into territory held by the Union troops, since that would bring about their emancipation.
The following year, 1864, Lincoln and the Republicans who controlled Congress did push the 13th Amendment through Congress, but that still didn’t give the emancipation effect until the amendment was ratified by enough states, which didn’t occur until December of 1865, after the war ended, and after Lincoln was dead.
If you would like to use a few minutes of MLK Day to read the text of his most famous speech, it’s available here. If you’d like to watch a video of it, there’s one here, although you’ll note that a full accurate audio of the speech doesn’t match up perfectly with the stitched together video. Still, you’ll be able to follow. It takes 17 minutes.