Michael McGough: Can Conservatives Celebrate Dr. King's Holiday?

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael McGough is senior editorial writer for The Times.

The observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, overshadowed somewhat by President Obama’s inauguration, inspired more than a few writers to complain about the “sanitization” of King’s message. The complaint has some validity: King wasn’t just an opponent of segregated public accommodations and Jim Crow laws; he also preached arguably radical ideas about economic equality, and he opposed the war in Vietnam. He was in Memphis, the site of his assassination, to show solidarity with striking sanitation workers.
In a sermon Monday at Boston’s 43rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast, the Rev. Jonathan Walton, minister at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, said that 1965 was the year in which King pivoted from the civil rights campaign for which he is remembered “to human rights, to economic justice” and to promoting peace in Vietnam. “It’s easier to celebrate a dead icon,” Walton said, “than heed the admonitions of a prophet.”
At the Huffington Post, Dion Rabouin pointed to this quotation from a 1967 King speech: “There are 40 million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there 40 million poor people in America?' And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”..

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