Hasan Kwame Jeffries, author of Bloody Lowndes – released this month in paperback – responded to Glenn Beck’s “March on Washington” last weekend. This op-ed originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Rewriting history is one of the many offenses that political conservatives are constantly accusing liberals of committing. But no one is guiltier of this transgression than conservatives themselves, who have a particular fondness for rewriting the history of the civil rights movement, especially their opposition to its most visible leader — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the moment Dr. King stepped onto the national stage during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, until he fell to an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, political conservatives despised him. In the South, they hated him for trying to end de jure discrimination, and outside of Dixie, they loathed him for trying to end de facto discrimination. As the leading voice of the civil rights movement, Dr. King represented everything that political conservatives opposed.
In the 1980s, political conservatives began to embrace Dr. King, turning to him for moral cover as they waged war against affirmative action and other race-based efforts designed to remedy past and present racial discrimination.
Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington, was the key to their about-face. During Dr. King’s most famous speech, he articulated his dream of a colorblind society, one in which his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Political conservatives latched on to Dr. King’s speech, trumpeting his words as evidence that he opposed race-based solutions to race-based problems when in fact he supported them vehemently. Indeed, they re-wrote history – their own history and that of the civil rights movement – as they endeavored to preserve the last vestiges of white privilege.
Today, political conservatives, led by media showmen such as Glenn Beck, are once again turning to Dr. King to deflect charges of racism as they advance their agenda by questioning, among other things, the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president. To mask their own racism, they have turned history on its head, bastardizing Dr. King’s dream.
Political conservatives are not the heirs to Dr. King’s legacy, and to suggest otherwise is not just fanciful, but farcical. Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t know enough about history to separate fact from fiction.