Thousands of people are gathering in Memphis on Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton were scheduled to attend events celebrating the slain civil rights leaders legacy at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was shot dead at 39. (BBC News) King’s memory, and his message, have received greater attention than usual in this year’s campaign, as the candidacy of Democrat Barack Obama—the first African American with a real chance to win the presidency—has put the issue of race in the forefront of political discussion. (Canwest News Service)
What the commentators said
King “left behind a model of how to repair the social fabric,” said David Brooks in The New York Times (free registration). At the time of his death, King was “under harsh assault not only from white racists but from the black power movement,” which saw his efforts to “push relentlessly for change but within an existing moral structure” as “outdated.” “If Barack Obama’s presidential campaign represents anything, it is the triumph of King’s early-60s style of activism over the angry and reckless late-60s style.”
“Obama's success has moved forward the story of American race relations; King would have been thrilled with his political triumphs,” said Juan Williams in The Wall Street Journal. “But when Barack Obama, arguably the best of this generation of black or white leaders, finds it easy to sit in Rev. (Jeremiah) Wright's pews and nod along with wacky and bitterly divisive racial rhetoric, it does call his judgment into question. And it reveals a continuing crisis in racial leadership.”
A lot of people seem to forget that King was ostracized for his sermons just as Wright has been, said Andrea Robinson in The Miami Herald (free registration). YouTube and the 24-hour news channels weren’t around to hammer the public in the head back then, but “King was disinvited from the White House and the college-lecture circuit after giving an anti-Vietnam War sermon in which he excoriated the United States as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’” In the glare of today’s unforgiving politics, King’s “masterful” and healing “oratory” might have been drowned out by YouTube.