In a few days, those of us who actually know — and who genuinely embrace — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy will endure the annual Kabuki theater of those who invoke his name even as they actively work against his principles. In the words of Sen. Raphael Warnock, who pastors the same church that Dr. King did: “You can’t remember Dr. King and dismember his legacy at the same time.” Sadly, many people are attempting to do just that.
It will be infuriating to witness duplicitous lawmakers who will float ethereal-yet-meaningless platitudes about Dr. King. Many will quote the only sentence fragment in the only paragraph in the only speech of King’s that they know — even as they stand in unwavering opposition to voting rights and economic justice that are aimed at the people for whom he sacrificed his life.
Dr. King’s birthday is intended to be a celebration, replete with calls for unity. Yet, I cannot conceal the visceral disgust that I have for people whose actions are completely contradictory to everything for which he stood. This is especially true for those who are systematically dismantling democracy, employing abject lies about voting security. Millions of Americans distrust our elections because they have been suckered by an inveterately lying former president — a con man whose prevarication about his election loss is being aided and abetted by his political minions and a right-wing media apparatus that is perverting (and subverting) democracy.
Former President Trump’s own Department of Justice, Federal Election Commission and Department of Homeland Security all confirmed that the 2020 election was exceedingly secure. Still, Republican lawmakers and others who have consistently stoked fears of “voter fraud” are applying “remedies” to address the same, passing dozens of voter suppression laws — across several states — as well as laws that give state legislatures the ability to overturn elections. Democracy is not dying in the dark; it is being strangled in broad daylight.
Disturbingly, millions of Americans have faith in Trump, who traitorously tried to pressure election officials into finding more votes for him, as well as urging them to shelve states’ Electoral College representatives. They have hitched their political wagon to someone who lost the White House, the Senate and the House — which last happened when Herbert Hoover completed that trifecta. Incredibly, these same people also believe that Democrats are trying to subvert our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can exercise his or her right to vote.
Further, as a pro-life Evangelical Christian, I will again express my extreme dismay at my white brothers and sisters who embrace this chicanery. (Dr. King repeatedly expressed his opprobrium at the same.) To them I say that this is not about liberal vs. conservative. This isn’t right vs. left; it’s about right vs. wrong. Dr. King famously said that 11 on Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in America”; there is no mystery as to why that is still the case. (As a reminder, roughly two-thirds of white Americans disapproved of King at the time of his assassination.)
I have two requests. First, if all one knows about Dr. King is a snippet of one speech, I ask that person not to pretend that he or she can speak with authority about him. Instead, read the five books that he authored, as well as several dozen of his speeches. Second, if one actively opposes the kinds of legislative, social and economic measures that King promoted, please don’t make a mockery of his legacy by pretending that he would agree with your ideology or actions.
I have alluded to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. While he never completely denounced his most famous speech, he would later call his dream a “nightmare.” King made it clear that he was increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of racial and economic justice in America — and pessimistic about the prospect of lasting change. Appropriately, I’ll end with his words:
“But now more than ever before, America is challenged to realize its dream, for the shape of the world today does not permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy. And the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. For the hour is late. And the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late.”
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.