Archive for Monday, January 16, 2012

Towering legend, flawed man? MLK’s image evolving

January 16, 2012


— On the National Mall in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. is a towering, heroic figure carved in stone. On the Broadway stage, he’s a living, breathing man who chain smokes, sips liquor and occasionally curses.

As Americans honor King’s memory 44 years after he was assassinated, the image of the slain civil rights leader is evolving.

The memorial

The new King memorial, which opened in August in the nation’s capital, celebrates the ideals King espoused. Quotations from his speeches and writings conjure memories of his message, and a 30-foot-tall sculpture depicts King emerging as a “stone of hope” from a “mountain of despair,” a design inspired by a line of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Some gaze upon this figure in silence. Some smile and pull out cellphone cameras. Others chat about how closely the statue resembles King. And some are moved to tears.

“Just all that this man did so that we could do anything and be anything,” said Brandolyn Brown, 26, of Cheraw, S.C., who visited the memorial Saturday with her aunt and cousin.

“I know it took a lot more than him to get to where we are, but he was a big part of the movement.”

Brown’s aunt, Gloria Drake, 60, of Cheraw, S.C., said she remembers King almost as though he was Moses leading his people to the promised land, even when there were so many reasons to doubt things would get better in an era of segregated buses, schools and lunch counters.

“It was really just hostile,” she said. “ ... And then we had a man that comes to tell us things are going to be better.”

“Don’t be mad, don’t be angry,” she recalled King’s message. “Just come together in peace.”

They said King’s lasting legacy is the reality of equality and now having a black president. Drake said President Barack Obama reminds her of King with his “calmness” even in the face of anger.

The stage

On Broadway, theatergoers are seeing a different version of King — one that is more man than legend.

The realism was refreshing for Donya Fairfax, who marveled after leaving a matinee of “The Mountaintop” that she had never really thought of King cursing, as actor Samuel L. Jackson does while portraying King in the play.

“He was human and not someone who was above fault,” said the 48-year-old, visiting from Los Angeles. “He cursed. He did things that people do behind closed doors. He was regular.”

For some, such a portrayal would seem to chip away at King’s memory. But for Natalie Pertz, who at 20 has come to know King only through the gauzy view of history, it seemed a precious reminder that it is not beyond the reach of the ordinary and the flawed to effect change.

“It’s important for people our age to see that he wasn’t this saint-like figure,” she said. “It’s making you see that just because you’re not perfect, it doesn’t mean you can’t do good.”

For M.E. Ward, seeing an in-the-flesh incarnation of King brought her back more than 40 years, to when she watched his soaring speeches on the television. No matter how human he seemed on stage, she said, he still carried a godly gift.

“Still charismatic, still an orator, and an individual who was able to move people through his speech,” she said, adding that King enlightened the world with a message “to be peaceful, to be patient, to be non-violent.”

No matter how distant his presence is now, that legacy is still very relevant, she said, in what she called “a world of turmoil and violence, constant violence.”


cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

The federal legislation for which King is given greatest credit, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was passed with considerably more Republicans voting for it than Democrats did. The percentage numbers: Senate Republicans for: 82%; Senate Democrats for: 69%. House Republicans for: 80%; House Democrats for: 63%.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

As has been pointed out many times, Republicans of yesteryear would be Democrats today, while Democrats would be Republicans today.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

That's far too simplistic an analysis. Republicans of today still believe in basic rights, i.e. civil rights such as those reflected in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provide equal opportunity for all.

Most Democrats of today, however, believe in monetary entitlements and equality of result, not equality of opportunity.

That's what the 2012 election will be all about.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

That vote was taken in a day when "liberal Republican" wasn't an oxymoron, and nearly all southern Democrats were either overt segregationists, or at least aware that voting for anything that might lead to integration was a good way to lose then next election.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

I stand on what I said. Republicans of today still believe in equal opportunity for all, as they did in 1964. They do not believe in government-mandated equality of result, the defining characteristic of liberal socialist Democrats of today.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"They do not believe in government-mandated equality of result, "

No, they believe in corporate-mandated, massive inequality of everything.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"On MLK Day, Romney Steps Up his Attacks on Immigrants Romney Makes South Carolina Campaign Stop with Kris Kobach, Anti-immigrant Champion"

ThePilgrim 6 years, 3 months ago

The MLK memorial is amusing: - made out of white granite, he looks like a white guy - designed by a Chinese nationalist artist - constructed by a team of Chinese laborers who came over and didn't get paid until they went back home. A fishy memorial to a great man.

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