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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

 

MLK and Ben Franklin: American Heroes

On Monday, January 16, in the US we observed the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Yesterday, January 17, was the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers. Okay, I know I'm a little late, but these are two Americans who contributed so much to the ideals of liberty, justice, and knowledge, that I think they still deserve a belated shout-out.

Ben Franklin is perhaps best known for his slightly foolish experiments with static electricity, but he accomplished quite a bit in helping foster the ideals of what would become the United States of America. He was a distinguished scientist, inventor, diplomat, and statesman. It's hard to imagine how one guy could do so much in one lifetime. Check out this website commemorating Ben's big 3-0-0. It's got lots of links to info on his life and achievements.

King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech is an inspiration that still resonates today. He fought not only for the rights of Black people, but for the rights of all Americans. The Civil Rights Movement changed so much in such a short time. I can't comprehend the things my parents went through, a mere generation ago, and the opportunities that have been available to me because of the sacrifice of so many. King is largely responsible for moving America so much closer to living up to the grand statements set forth in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

There's a show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late night programming called "The Boondocks." It's based on a controversial comic strip by Aaron Mcgruder that deals quite bluntly with race and politics in America. I never read the comic strip before, but I like the show. The satire is very funny, and if you can stand excessive use of the N word, I recommend checking it out. What does this have to do with Martin Luther King Jr.? Read on.

This week's episode dealt with an "alternate history" in which Dr. King was not killed when he was shot in Memphis in 1968. He went into a coma for 30 years and reawoke in the year 2000. Thus, he was alive to witness the events of September 11 and the dramatic change in America that has taken place since. Shortly after 9/11 he participates in a TV interview in which he is asked about what he thinks America's response to the terror attacks should be. The show has the King character respond in the way I think King, as a minister and an advocate of non-violence would; he talks about Jesus and turning the other cheek to our enemies rather than responding with escalating violence. These comments are not well received. The 21st century media brands him a traitor and anti-American. He is attacked and denegrated by the media and the American people turn their backs on him.

What really struck me as I watched this show was that this scenario, as weird as it sounds, seems quite plausible. If King were alive today, what would he say about the direction America is headed in? Somehow I doubt he would approve. And would his opinions be carefully considered as the words of an American icon and champion of civil rights, or would they be ignored and dismissed, with King branded as a liberal (when did that word become an insult?) un-American traitor? Given the degeneration of public discourse in American politics and the climate of demagoguery and mudslinging from both the left and the right, I don't think it's an unreasonable speculation. It got me thinking, which prompted me to write this post.

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