Yesterday was the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Junior. King has become a moral touchstone for America, embraced by liberals who have long fought for equality and justice, but also by conservatives who appreciate his piety. It was not always so.
There will always be fringe haters who refuse to accept the words and deeds of a moral and spiritual giant like MLK, but today he is widely lauded and admired by a sizable majority of citizens. Fifty years ago, however, he was mostly considered a criminal and “rabble-rouser”. Well into the Seventies, if you told someone that you liked or admired MLK, you were likely to get an angry response.
I came from an unusually liberal and matriarchal family. My grandmother so despised Richard Nixon that she donated a large sum of money to the campaign of his opponent, George McGovern, and for this she was placed on the second iteration of Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” (though being a sexist, Nixon listed her husband, not her). She was also a vocal and active supporter of civil rights and women’s rights, and revered MLK, as did all of her children, so I grew up considering MLK a hero.
I can still remember tense encounters with various children at school and elsewhere who were shocked and horrified that I admired MLK, and ridiculed me for it. And this didn’t take place in the deep South. This was in a college town in Colorado. It’s hard to remember that for many years after his death a majority of Americans saw him as a scary radical, as a threat, as the other.
Yet a half century later he is widely praised and revered. This is a lesson in the slow but relentless power of art, education and culture. As more people learned about his life and struggle, and the lives and struggles of others like him, the more they understood the courage of conviction and resolve necessary to risk everything for the sake of justice and equality.
MLK said that “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And for this reason, equality for women, minorities, gays, lesbians, LGTBQ and other non-white-male groups cannot be stopped. It can suffer setbacks, it can be slowed, but the inexorable forces of fairness and justice prevail. Trumpism is a setback, but his supporters have already lost the culture war.
Our nation will continue to become less white. White men will increasingly suffer equality. Young people will slowly take over and impose a new egalitarianism. It will not be stopped. The death of King didn’t stop it. The death of the Kennedy’s didn’t stop it. The election of Reagan didn’t stop it. And the grotesque national embarrassment that is Donald Trump has set it back, but won’t stop it. Our challenge is to right the ship as quickly as we can–with energy, determination, an affirmative vision, compassion and non-violence. We can start by repealing and replacing John Faso.