MLK Morning Roundup: Three Different Slaps To the Legacy of Dr. King

By Arturo R. García

This is nominally a day of celebration, of rememberance for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. But some folks just can’t leave well enough alone.

It started in Greeley, Colo., earlier this month: radio station owner and school board member Brett Reese began using his media platform to read a listener’s letter calling King a “sexual degenerate,” an “America-hating communist” and a “plastic god.” Reese told a local news station he aired it – at least twice a day, and as many as four – after “doing fact-checking.”

And yet, as Talking Points Memo reports, somehow Reese’s efforts at “journalism” still left him surprised to find out that the three-year-old letter had been posted on a site run by a white supremacist group. Reese also apparently hasn’t commented on how he could verify that King was either a deity, or made out of plastic. But, if finding out news that the key to this rather desperate plea for attention originated with a bunch of racists hasn’t stopped him from airing the letter, I suppose we can’t expect much else from him to make sense.

Such as his insistence on bringing a gun to school board meetings because of “death threats.” Ironically, the Associated Press reported that Reese had to stop doing so following a restraining order placed upon him for allegedly threatening to “have a shootout” with a rival station.

If there’s one positive aspect to this situation, it’s that Reese (seated in this picture) has solidified his status as a fool both within the board, which voted 6-1 to distance itself from his tactics, and within his own town. If he wanted an expose, he surely got it – exposing himself as one more cynical race-mongering “shock jock.” In other words, he’ll probably be trolling around the Foxosphere within a year.

*******

The mock outrage continued in Maine, where new governor Paul LePage not only refused to attend an MLK event hosted by the local NAACP, but behaved as if it were a patriotic act to do so:

“They are a special interest. End of story…and I’m not going to be held hostage by special interests. And if they want, they can look at my family picture. My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they’d like about it,” said LePage.

LePage has an adopted son who is from Jamaica.

When a reporter from another television station asked LePage if his non-participation is more than one instance, and rather a pattern, he replied, “Tell ‘em to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them.”

LePage’s rhetoric had his people in damage-control mode, citing prior commitments, and his speaking at prior MLK events while serving as mayor of Waterville. Which would be easier to understand if LePage hadn’t reacted aggressively toward the NAACP in the past: LePage accused the group of wanting him to speak exclusively to black prisoners at the Maine State Prison, according to WCSH-TV. Unfortunately for him, his account was refuted not only by state NAACP director Rachel Talbot Ross, but by a corrections official who said she “would be surprised if the prison would be allowed an event that was only for black inmates.”

For her part, Ross told the Portland Press Herald:

“We don’t want to misinterpret his intention, but the message we’re getting is that we’re not welcome and we’re not part of the Maine he’s preparing to lead for the next four years,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the NAACP and president of the NAACP’S Portland Branch.

Ross said LePage will be recognized Monday, the MLK holiday, during a march and rally for racial equality and economic justice on the steps of Portland City Hall. Participants plan to create a “welcome basket” that will be delivered to the new governor, including another request to meet and discuss concerns in a respectful, transparent and meaningful manner.

“This isn’t going to be a political throwdown,” Ross said. “We want to find a way to have a civil, respectful discourse on these important issues. We all want Maine to be the best it can be. We’re asking for help in understanding where we fit in and how we can take part in the process.”

*******
And in Washington D.C., a moment of tribute toward Dr. King seemingly turned into an attempt to ret-con his philosophy, when Jeh C. Johnson, the U.S. Defense Department’s general counsel, said MLK would support the current U.S. offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack,” Johnson said.

Johnson claimed US service members are helping the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that Dr. King spoke out in favor of acts of kindness.

“I draw the parallel to our own servicemen and women deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, away from the comfort of conventional jobs, their families and their homes,” Johnson said, adding that the “dangerous unselfishness” of the troops would make Dr. King proud.

In a release, the department noted that Johnson attended Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, with his oldest son, Martin Luther King III. Which, one would think, would make Johnson even more aware than the media about Dr. King’s 1967 speech opposing the Vietnam War:

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 19541; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

What Johnson was trying to accomplish is unclear. But maybe he should leave the re-interpretation of Dr. King’s words to the professionals (even if said re-interpretations can sound NSFW):

Thanks to Elton for the tip on the LePage story. Video courtesy of The Huffington Post
Top image courtesy of Life Magazine