Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Post: Why I Am Anti-Martin Luther King Day

By Jeff Newman

Wow, how’s that for a provocative title! I do have a message here however, and what better way to drag you in! December 1st always makes me think about why MLK Day was a poor choice for a National Holiday and why I think today, December 1st, should be National Civil Rights Day, instead.

55 years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, in a segregated bus, in Montgomery, Alabama. I always picture an older African American woman, tired after a hard days work, simply stating, “I’m not moving.” No anger, no fuss, just a person after a hard day at the office, saying, “My dogs are tired, I’m keeping this seat”. Like all things viewed through the lens of history, there is probably a romantic aura I put around this incident. Ms. Parks herself has said that wasn’t the way it happened at all. What I find the most compelling about it, no matter how it happened, was that it was not theater for political purposes. It wasn’t somebody going up a tree to stop it from being chopped down, knowing their bills were paid with their trust fund. This was someone who finally had had enough. She was a regular Joe, like you or I, a member of the proletariat standing up against an injustice. As Ms. Parks said in a 1992 radio interview with NPR, “I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.”

There are a few other incidents such as Lizzie Jennings, who in 1854 helped to de-segregate street cars in NYC, but Rosa Park’s refusal to move led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In my opinion, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the tipping point that set the Civil Rights Movement in motion. It started the fires that swept the South and helped to end Jim Crow. It gave Martin Luther King his first national attention and helped propel him into the Leader of the Civil Rights Movement, into someone who people of all colors knew, and listened to whether they agreed with him or not.

National Holidays that focus on one person, even someone with the stature of MLK detract from all the other heroes of the movement, the people at the groundswell who were the true impetus for change, not the elitists at the top. Martin Luther King shouldn’t be the focus, anymore then Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Ralph Abernathy, the Little Rock Nine, James Peck, Medgar Evans, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, or Michael Schwerner, to name just a tiny segment of the people who helped move America into the country it could be instead of the country it was, should have holidays named after them. Every one of them, and so many more, most whose names we will not even know, are the true heroes of the movement. Not instead of Dr. King, but right along side him.

I’d like to imagine that Dr. King himself would agree with me. In the I have a Dream speech, he closed with these famous words: “"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" Dr. King believed in Civil Equality, without regards to race or religion for all people. We still have so far to go in this country to achieve equality for all people. As I mentioned in a previous article regarding our local representative, Shirley Huntley, until we recognize that Civil Rights means equality for all people, regardless of sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation (or anything I may have missed) none of us are truly free.

True change comes from the masses, and is a bottom to the top movement, not the other way around. As much as I hate to say it, the Tea Party movement, before it got co-opted by Palin and her ilk was one such movement. The real heroes are the people who come out and listen and not the people who give the speeches. They are the struggling masses who yearn to be free, crying out together in one voice and not the person who puts it all together into one statement who make the changes we feel forever.

Changing MLK Day to National Civil Rights Day would allow us to examine all the ways America has furthered the cause of Civil Rights and Equality and how far we still have to go. To honor all the heroes, from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Baker and James McConnell, who were the first people to apply for a same-sex marriage in 1970. By making it about one man, instead of one idea, we devalue Dr. King and what he believed in. By making it about one man, albeit a Great Man and a True Hero, we don’t do justice to all the other Heroes. Let us remember them all, every unknown martyr, everyone who took a blow, physical or spirtual for Civil Rights. Let us take today to reflect on what we have done and what we can still do to make the dream of Equality for Everyone Complete.

Jeff Newman is a Life Long NY Resident currently residing in Queens, who has lived in 4 out of 5 Boroughs, though who really counts Staten Island, as well as Nassau County. He is known to be opinionated, witty, clever, very handsome and exceptionally humble, in addition to being too lazy to write his own blog. That’s why we will occasionally let him ramble with his thoughts here, at Edge of The City. 

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