Here are some items for Martin Luther King Day:
1. Patrick J. Buchanan, Right from the Beginning (New York: Regnery, 1990) 303:
“No one was unmoved [by King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech]. I knew I had just heard from a few feet away one of the memorable addresses in American history. What made King’s oration so powerful and affecting was that it was a passionate appeal to the best in America, delivered without rancor or malice or warning of retribution for past wrongs. King had evoked pictures of an America everyone knew and loved. His cry came in a Gospel rhetoric, in the resonating cadences that Southern and rural people, black and white, so well understood.”
Elsewhere in his book, Buchanan is quite critical of Martin Luther King, Jr. But even he found things to admire in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s certainly a profound piece of America’s story. And it continues to challenge and exhort us.
2. I enjoyed this YouTube video: Martin Luther King on Malcolm X . In it, Martin Luther King is asked to respond to Malcom X’s criticisms of him and his approach. King does not attack Malcom X in kind, but he goes into a logical defense of non-violence.
He sounds rather intellectual, which was essentially what he was. When I was at Harvard, Harvey Cox gave us a slideshow history of Martin Luther King. He remarked that King’s sermons were very intellectual, and he showed us a slide of the church choir falling asleep behind King as he delivered the sermon. “So you guys can have hope if people are sleeping during your sermons,” Cox remarked. It’s amazing whom God can use to do his work, and the remarkable talents that can come out of a person at just the right time.
3. In its 10th season, 7th Heaven had an episode about Martin Luther King, called “Got MLK?” I liked it because Pete from Smallville was on it, as was Julia Duffy of Newhart fame. You never knew whom you’ll encounter when watching 7th Heaven!
The plot went like this: Pete wanted to write his paper on Martin Luther King, and his teacher (Duffy) told him to pick someone else. When she hears Martin say to Pete that King wasn’t that big of a deal, she requires the entire class to write about an African-American figure. Someone then gets upset and vandalizes Martin’s car. Near the end of the show, Pete speaks to Eric Camden’s church about why Martin Luther King matters to him.
Pete says that his grandfather was a garbage collector, who was part of the strike that King organized. The grandfather was surprised that King stuck his neck out for lowly garbage collectors!
Nowadays, there are civil rights leaders who try to make money and increase their status through their activism. But King wasn’t like that. I read an article a while back that contrasted King with Jesse Jackson. Whereas Jackson likes to thrust himself into the spotlight and wonders why people don’t consider him a “great man,” the article argued, King entered the spotlight quite reluctantly. He saw an injustice. He didn’t want his children to endure it. So he stepped forward and did something about it. And he suffered as a result, receiving death threats, spending time in jail, and ultimately giving his life.
This reminds me of the Desperate Housewives episode last night. It was the 100th episode, and it was probably the most beautiful and moving one I had ever seen. It was about a handyman, Eli Scruggs (played by Beau Bridges), who touched the lives of so many people in Wisteria Lane. He died on this episode, and the ladies think back to the ways that he helped them. He introduced Gabrielle to the neighborhood ladies, and taught her social skills after she had botched up her first impression. He saved Bree’s cookbook (which later became a bestseller and made Bree rich and famous) after she threw it in the garbage. And, after Susan had another of her relationship disasters, he told Susan that she was an inspiration to him, since, after each breakup, she got back up and kept on trying.
Near the end, we see why Eli became the way he is. Mary Alice Young was the one who got him started as a handyman. He was asking for work, she noticed the holes in his shoes, and she gave his card out to her friends and neighbors. Eli was the last person to speak to Mary Alice before her suicide, and he felt terrible that he wasn’t able to help her. He sat in his car for an hour, and he resolved from that point on to help people fix their lives.
At first, I thought that ruined the episode, because I didn’t think that Eli manifested a “Messiah complex.” He was just a nice, humble guy who helped out when he could. But helping people didn’t require him to interfere in their lives or tell them what to do. Rather, it involved caring for someone else when the opportunity presented itself, rather than just coming in, fixing something in the person’s house, and leaving. What was really moving was that the residents of Wisteria Lane didn’t immediately remember all that Eli had done for them, since they just saw him as the local handyman. But his kindness became evident to them as they looked back.
That’s the way King was, only on a larger scale. He wanted to help people and make this world a better place, and he was willing to sacrifice himself to get America closer to her ideals. He wasn’t interested so much in the publicity, but rather in the dream.
On that note, happy Martin Luther King Day!