Archive for Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A monument to the ‘least of these’

August 24, 2011


This Sunday on the National Mall, the nation dedicates a monument to, arguably, the greatest American of the 20th century. It is, as Lincoln said at another dedication, altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

When heroes die, it is human nature to wrap their lives in metal, marble and granite. We do this that we might remember them, but there is in the remembering also a kind of reduction. The rough and jagged lines of a life lived at the forefront, lived in controversy, conflict and trial, become something smooth and safe enough for children. Thus were the cunning, melancholy, white supremacy, courage and genius of Lincoln flattened in popular memory to a single thing: he saved the Union and freed the slaves.

And thus does King’s 13-year struggle for the redemption of America shrink to a single brilliant speech and a fight to overturn laws that never should have been laws in the first place. The rough and jagged lines have become smooth. His life has become a bedtime story.

Which is why it feels appropriate, necessary, maybe a little seditious, to remember and remind that when he died, Martin Luther King was fighting for the right of workers to form a union and for the dignity of the poor.

That is not a bedtime story from way back when. It is a headline from right now. Unions, after all, are controversial again. Worse, poor people find themselves denigrated and demeaned in ways that shock conscience.

Former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer once likened them to stray animals one feeds at the back door. Fox “News” pundit John Stossel sees them as the enemy in a battle between “the makers and the takers.” Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning compares them to scavenging “raccoons.” Ann Coulter says welfare creates “irresponsible animals.”

There are people in this country — working people — who must routinely choose between rent and groceries, prescription drugs and electric lights. But we are encouraged by some on the political right to regard them with contempt and save our empathy for the fabulously wealthy.

You’ll have to go some to find a starker example of how morally blinkered this country has become.

Even if you put morality aside, there is still the question of enlightened self interest. If you are white, you may scorn black people and be reasonably certain you will never become one. If you are straight, you may scorn gay people and be reasonably certain you will never become one.

But any of us can become poor. Ann Coulter could become poor. How do you scorn what you might someday be?

The man we honor Sunday could have died wealthy from speaking fees alone. But he gave that money away and instead died poor, struggling on the side of the poor — garbage workers who came home with maggots in their hair, reeking of other people’s waste, having earned maybe $10, gross, for a 14-hour day.

King died asking America to show a little human compassion for people like those, people the Bible calls “the least of these.” The monument to him seems, in photographs, a handsome and imposing thing.

But one suspects that, given his druthers, he would prefer the compassion. One suspects he could consider that the greatest monument of all.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Pitts will be chatting with readers every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. CDT on


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

It's nice that it was made in China.

Just like almost everything else that we buy.

But I do have to wonder, isn't it somewhat illogical for a sculpture of someone known for civil rights to be made in a country that is well known for not having any?

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

China: sculpting the people Americans won't.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

"The greatest American of the 20th century?"

Good grief. Pitts needs to make an appointment with Pat Summitt's doctor at the Mayo Clinic.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Why, yes, the Murdochs have shown in Britain that their integrity is beyond reproach.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

The feds had to pony up over $700,000 to MLK's family for the use of his image.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

So writers and musicians should have no rights to profit from their creative endeavors?

Scribeoflight 6 years, 5 months ago

It's not a straw man if it's a good, valid, point that hurts your position, sir.

You are the one engaging in hyperbole and exageration without using any actual reasoning.

"Copyright laws are an injustice and an affront to human rights."

Now that is a thougthful and well reasoned response if I've ever heard one. An artist seeking to protect and profit from their work is on the same level as enslaving people against their will, or depriving them of property without justification? Seriously?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Yea, and we all know all of those "what ifs" are impossible, so if you're poor, it's strictly your own fault.

You need to get out and spend a little time in the real world, LO.

Scribeoflight 6 years, 5 months ago

Do you have a citation for those statistics sir?

Also, that is a very poor argument. You are assuming that because some people are poor because of their own actions, then ALL people are poor because of their own actions.

And then, there is some ad hominem attacks thrown in there for spice. Calling people spoiled children is not how mature people have rational discussions.

Scribeoflight 6 years, 5 months ago

Also, make sure that you have no serious diseases, and are not involved in any major accidents. Make sure that your industry and job does not become redundant as well.

While you are correct that the factors you list are major contributors, they do not reduce yoru chances to "virtually zero".

Fallacy of the single cause much?

thelonious 6 years, 5 months ago

Hey Liberty One -

I've done all of those things, plus get a college degree and marry someone with a college degree, and while I am not poor today, I (an accountant) am one lost contract at my company away from being unemployed, and my wife (a HS advanced placement English Teacher) is one more budget cut by Brownback away from being unemployed, and in this economy I can assure you that if we both became unemployed (and possibly if only one of us became unemployed), we would all of a sudden become poor, and not through any fault of our own. I am nearly 50, and finding a new job right now would not be easy. My wife and I have both worked hard all of our working life (I started working at age 14), and we should not be in the position we are in. You can stick it where the sun doesn't shine!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

A fine monument to a monumental man. Like all of us, he was flawed, but his courage was remarkable in the nation's time of need.

Jama Crady Maxfield 6 years, 5 months ago

Cato~ I rarely engage in arguments on this message board although I read them daily. I sometimes agree with you, but in this case, how rude can you be? Millions of Americans are diagnosed with dementia and the ongoing struggles are going to get even worse as the baby boomer generation ages. To imply that Pitts suffers from dementia AND further more to make light of a woman like Pat Summitt (who has worked her butt off building up an athletic program and guiding and influencing the lives of thousands) SUFFERING from this disease is both callous and low. I urge you to show more compassion towards all people, even if you don't agree with them. As someone who's life has been touched by Alzheimers, I speak from experience. Dementia is a HORRIBLE disease that affects all members of the family and brings about nothing but sadness and despair. Please don't make light of that. Thank you.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, this sort of rudeness is often present in cato's posts.

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