January 23, 1983 marked a pivotal point in an otherwise mundane life. On that date, my first article entitled, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday Should Be a National Holiday” was published, thus beginning a writing career that culminated with me being named the Legal Editor of the English language edition of PRAVDA.Ru
After that eventful day, I spent hours reading books and researching articles about other lesser known, but equally courageous, leaders of American social movements. Armed with my newly acquired knowledge, and encouragement from family and friends, I returned to college to complete the studies I had abandoned almost a decade earlier. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I did something that a few years earlier would have been unthinkable to me: I enrolled in law school.
During these years of study, I had the opportunity to meet and converse with several legendary figures from the civil rights era: Reverend C.T. Vivian, Kwame Toure (a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Muhammad Ali, to name a few. Also, in late 1983 (despite the racist objections of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms), legislation establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday was signed into law, albeit reluctantly, by then-president Ronald Reagan. (The first official celebration was held three years later, in 1986).
While in law school, I also had the privilege of attending a lecture delivered by Dr. King’s widow, Coretta. Although I encouraged my predominantly white classmates to attend, stressing that the passage of time gives us limited opportunities to witness living history, few of them chose to do so. Now it is indeed too late; Ms. King recently joined her husband in eternity.
The actions (or more accurately inactions) of my classmates highlighted one persistent reality of the King Holiday: It is persistently viewed as only being of relevance to African-Americans. Many public schools and towns in predominantly white areas conspicuously accentuate this reality by ignoring the King Holiday. But this reality also exists in racially diverse communities as well. Whenever streets, parks or other public facilities are named for Dr. King, they are routinely confined to predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
Oftentimes, to defend their practices, school officials regurgitate the specious argument that holding school on the King Holiday provides teachers the opportunity to “discuss the civil rights movement.” Yet if historical events could only be discussed on their respective holidays, students would never learn about United States Presidents, Pilgrims and/or the Declaration of Independence, since school is normally not in session on President’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, or Independence Day.
Not surprisingly, these same schools and towns do not hesitate to celebrate holidays that commemorate the evolution of white, European dominance in America, such as Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day (as Malcolm X once said, “[African-Americans] did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on [them]”), and President’s Day (Native-American life and culture were irreparably damaged, and slavery and segregation thrived during the tenure of numerous presidents). In addition, African-Americans often live on streets named after individuals who contributed to America’s sad legacy of racism and discrimination.
Richard Hatcher (one of the first African-Americans elected mayor of a major American city), often spoke about the irony of having once resided on a street named after America’s nineteenth president, Rutherford B. Hayes, particularly since Hayes (using racist machinations similar to those employed by the Bush dictatorship during the coups of 2000 and 2004) stole a disputed presidential election by agreeing to remove federal troops from the Reconstruction-era South, thereby condemning African-Americans to a century of segregation and lynching that political cartoonist Thomas Nast once described as “Worse Than Slavery.”
Also, while I will be the first to agree that those who fought for the nation during times of war deserve holidays like Memorial and Veterans Day, it is tragic that America finds no commensurate desire to honor those who struggled for peace. Dr. King’s legacy encompasses more than non-violent campaigns against racial segregation. In his later years, at great risk to himself and the movement he led, Dr. King also spoke out against economic inequality and poverty (which affect members of all races), condemned the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex, and denounced the ubiquitous reliance on war as a tool for political and/or economic gain. Yet, as the arrogance and mendacity of the Bush dictatorship illustrate, his words continue to go unheeded.
Although some may argue that the Christmas Season serves to promote the ideals of “peace on earth, good will towards men,” it is difficult to imagine how images of people trampling each other in a frenzied rush to purchase the year’s “must-have” item, how pundits pontificating about the season’s impact on the economy, or how PIMPS (Propagandists in Media Positions) manufacturing a sophistic “war on Christmas” for the sake of ratings and advertising revenues, show any reverence at all for the birth of the “Prince of Peace.”
In fact many of those who opportunistically denounced the alleged “war on Christmas,” and/or call themselves Christians, have no compunction about endorsing violence and bloodshed when it serves their political ends. (Remember Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of the President of Venezuela). Yet, when they risked shedding their own blood, these individuals exploited a variety of schemes to avoid it: George W. Bush chose some still nebulous National Guard service to avoid combat duty in Vietnam; Dick Cheney, the so-called “avid” hunter who “bravely” shoots animals (and apparently his hunting partners as well), received five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, allegedly because he had “other priorities,” which, honestly translated, means he is too much of a coward to face a target that has the capacity to shoot back.
And America should not forget the “intrepidness” of right-wing musicians like Cheney-clone Ted Nugent, who is currently a fixture on cable television channels devoted to hunting, yet feigned insanity to avoid military service; “Kid Rock” who apparently thinks the war against Iraq can be won by sitting in high-priced front row seats at professional basketball games; and Toby Keith, who sang about “kicking ass” in Iraq, but apparently is not so willing to “kick that ass” himself.
Of course we cannot forget the hypocrisy of two of America’s most prominent PIMPS: the right-wing’s favorite drug addict, Rush Limbaugh, who avoided Vietnam by complaining of a “boil” on his posterior; and the Christmas Holiday’s “preeminent” defender, Fox “News” Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, who, despite his boasts that he would “sacrifice himself” in support of America’s war effort in Fallujah, conspicuously remains thousands of miles away from that besieged Iraqi city.
But this list would be incomplete without the addition of thugs like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who approved a memo that authorized torture, and then spat on the Bill of Rights by defending illegal wiretaps and other forms of domestic spying. Although the results of Gonzales’s handiwork can be seen in the gruesome pictures of torture taken at Abu Ghraib prison, apparently the only “immorality” that disturbs him are pictures or films of consenting adults engaged in sexual activity. And Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice serve not as examples of America’s “racial progress,” but as throwbacks to the days of slavery, when African-Americans were frequently reduced to shuffling sycophants selling out members of their own race for a few additional crumbs from the master’s table. But, in reality, these three individuals are more deserving of contempt, since, thanks to people like Dr. King, they had the freedom to choose their path in life, a right that was not available to those in bondage.
Logic would seem to indicate that Americans should be incensed by the duplicity of these individuals. But that is not the case. Cowards who glorify and promote wars, as long as they and their loved ones are not doing the fighting and the dying, are not the ones who are vilified. It is those, like Dr. King, who had (and have) their courage and patriotism questioned for daring to challenge and expose the lies, despite the pressures of popular sentiment and the prospects of facing ridicule, hatred, economic hardship, and even injury or death.
My disdain for America’s proclivity to reward hypocrisy and cowardice also changed my thinking about the King Holiday. It reminded me of the time I received a prestigious (or so I thought) award from an institution I admired and respected. Although I always subscribed to the belief that human praise is usually vacuous and/or conceals ulterior motives, I confess that this award enjoyed a place of honor in my home for several years, until circumstances enabled me to see beneath the façade of those who sponsored it. Suddenly I realized that my initial instinct had been correct—that praise is only as honorable as the people who offer it. So, in disgust, I returned this award to those who originally presented it to me. And I have never regretted doing so.
After all, what does it profit a community if its schools and other institutions only celebrate the King Holiday as a gesture of appeasement? What is more contemptible—those who let you know precisely where you stand, or those who smile while plotting to cheat, betray or undermine you?
Perhaps the answer resides in the double standards of institutions like the National Football League (NFL). Several years ago, the State of Arizona was especially resistant to creating a state holiday in honor of Dr. King. In response, the National Football League implied that failure to honor Dr. King could harm Arizona’s future chances of hosting the Super Bowl, the NFL’s financially lucrative championship game. Yet the NFL’s alleged concern for Dr. King’s message of equality apparently does not extend to Native-Americans, who have been habitually reduced to caricatures and stereotypes through teams like the Washington Redskins.
At least the schools and towns that ignore the King Holiday serve as a reminder to the rest of the nation that the civil rights struggle is far from over. Too many people, of all races, still fail to recognize that Dr. King’s message is of significance to all Americans, still cannot understand that hatred and intolerance is corrosive to the soul, and still do not realize that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The result is a milieu where those who speak popular lies are rewarded, while those who speak unpopular truths are condemned, where evil is omnipresent and compassion is invisible, where people are judged not by the content of their character, but the content of their bank accounts, where the definition of “immorality” does not include torture, illegal wars, social injustice, the exploitation of labor or the destruction of civil liberties. In other words, a milieu where Dr. King’s dream of a better world has been replaced by a nightmare.
David R. Hoffman
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru