Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day

Born in January, 1929, Martin Luther King gave the US much needed Civil Rights leadership in the 1950's and early 1960's. It is sad to contemplate that a century after the Civil War, the attitudes of racial prejudice still hampered social progress of the United States. King confronted the wrongs of society while also doing it in a non-violent way.

While no leader is perfect, King's later record was marred by error. In his private life, the womanizing left a blot on his legacy. Here, as elsewhere, he ought to be treated equally with the other great men of history. Historians should not shrink from the "warts and all" approach to biography.

In his public policy positions, there were two areas of concern:

1) He opposed the Vietnam War because of disproportate use of Blacks as soldiers. One wonders if he would have opposed Lincoln's Civil War, too. In that war, too, Blacks enrolled in the army in numbers disproportionate to their percentage of the population. His position just did not make sense.

2) He advocated monetary compensation for slavery, proposing $50 billion over 10 years. He chose Playboy Magazine as the venue for making this proposal in 1965. Such a historic proposal ought to have been presented on a better platform than that. On the substance, however, no allowance was made for the payment in blood made by the US Army in the Civil War.

To sum up, this great man was like most other great men: his good qualities were larger than life; his bad qualities were, too.