I always take time on Martin Luther King's
birthday holiday to think about him and his revolution.
This is different from thinking about the race
issue, which should have been laid to rest when the majority of
American voters chose a black president in 2008.
So there I was on Monday listening to a talk show
on the subject of whether this should be a paid federal holiday or
not. I can see arguments that the federal government shouldn't have
the authority to require businesses to provide their workers with
paid holidays and that children should be in school studying the
reason for the celebration, rather than staying home.
Still, I figure it's good for our common culture
for us to share special days that reflect our history. If we're
going to celebrate our founding on July Fourth and our war dead on
Memorial Day, then I'm glad we decided to celebrate the civil rights
movement on Martin Luther King Day.
As a common culture, we have two things in our
nation's history about which to be embarrassed: the breaking of
treaties with Indian tribes, and the acceptance of slavery for
several decades after our founding and the treatment of black
citizens in the South for another century.
Some founding fathers predicted that the new
nation would regret allowing slavery, and, of course, it did, not
only because of a terrible Civil War, but because of the years of
terrible southern racism that followed until Martin Luther King and
his supporters marched to push civil rights to the fore.
I probably shouldn't get my history from movies,
but sometimes the best understanding of events can come from
becoming immersed in these dramas. I don't remember the name of the
made-for-TV movie I saw many years ago, I just remember this scene:
The Rev. Martin Luther King and a busload of his
followers, black and white, are trapped in a church somewhere in the
Deep South. The church is surrounded by men in white robes and
hoods, carrying torches; some of them belong to local law
The Klan, an ugly combination of ignorance and
evil, has its own history of killing blacks and civil rights
workers. Imagine being in this position, unable to call the sheriff
or state police for help.
In the movie, the Rev. King is on the phone,
talking to the president and attorney general in Washington, D.C.
The Kennedy brothers are sympathetic, but concerned about losing
southern votes, especially Texas, in the next election if they get
The plot may have been a dramatic composite of
the various confrontations of those turbulent years. But from what I
myself remember of the news back then, it gave a realistic sense of
what it was like for MLK and other civil rights activists, and the
astonishing courage it took to stand up and be counted.
Because of them, this shameful period in southern
history eventually ended, and the United States of America began to
heal as one nation, indivisible by race.
This overcoming of a major flaw in our self-image
seems worth commemorating once a year, it seems to me. The
commemoration might help some people better understand the intense
concerns of those of us who fear giving too much power to
government. One difference between us and those who criticize us is
a lack of imagination on the part of the latter.
They live in a world in which "it can't happen
here," where the government can't be "the enemy," won't ever turn on
its people. They don't understand why we "gun nuts" want the right
to own automatic weapons, not just hunting rifles and a handgun for
self-defense against common criminals.
Those of us who pay attention to history know
that in other countries the citizens have often needed to be armed
against the government, and we can imagine how it would feel to be
surrounded by hostile government forces. We recognize that it has
happened here, in our own South, during the anti-integration years.
The organization Jews for the Preservation of
Firearms Ownership produced a 2009 video showing that gun control
began in the U.S. to prevent freed slaves from buying guns.
Introducing the video, Ralph Conner from the Congress for Racial
Equality in Chicago notes that "by definition, a slave is a person
that is disarmed."
As a Florida judge said in 1941, gun control was
"never intended to apply to white people."
According to JPFO, the updated 1968 Gun Control
Act, which followed the racial riots of that year, was mostly copied
from the Nazi gun control laws that kept the Jews disarmed, hence
the creation of that modern Jewish defense organization.
Martin Luther King, like Gandhi, believed in
peaceful resistance. Both of them, with awesome courage, chose
peaceful resistance to governments that were already too powerful.
We are fortunate here in America, in 2011, to
have a chance to keep our own government at a safe size; to try to
prevent destructive fiscal decisions that will give other, hostile
governments an opportunity to control us; and a guarantee of our
continued right to be properly armed if things don't work out as we