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How the Right Steals MLK’s Legacy

How the Right Steals MLK’s Legacy April 6, 2012

Right Wing Watch has a very long and detailed post about something that has bothered me a great deal. Over the last couple years, the right has worked overtime to co-opt the moral credibility of Martin Luther King in the service of their repressive agenda. RWW debunks that in almost every way by quoting King’s actual views on the many issues on which people distort his positions.

One of the most blatant of these is Alveda King, niece of the slain civil rights leader, who is a hardcore religious righter on almost every issue. And she makes some truly bizarre arguments:

Alveda King, a niece of the civil rights leader, has become a fixture at right-wing events, where she claims her uncle’s legacy for her opposition to legal abortion, LGBT equality, and church-state separation.  Notably, for someone who is fond of quoting her uncle’s dream that people be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin – when she’s using it to urge black voters not to back Obama for example – she has an oddly biological view of her own claim to the King legacy.  His dream is “in her genes,” she has said repeatedly, insisting that MLK would be supporting her attacks on legal abortion if he were alive. And in dismissing the late Coretta Scott King’s support for marriage equality for same-sex couples, Alveda King said “I’ve got his DNA. She doesn’t, she didn’t…I know something about him. I’m made out of the same stuff.”   At Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, Alveda Kingsaid we would know we have arrived when “prayer is once again welcomed in the public squares of America and in our schools.”

But in fact, King was on the opposite side of all these issues. In 1966, Planned Parenthood honored King with the Margaret Sanger award. In his speech accepting the award, he strongly endorsed the organization and the importance of the widespread availability of birth control for the black community.

Recently the subject of Negro family life has received extensive attention. Unfortunately, studies have overemphasized the problem of the Negro male ego and almost entirely ignored the most serious element — Negro migration. During the past half century Negroes have migrated on a massive scale, transplanting millions from rural communities to crammed urban ghettoes. In their migration, as with all migrants, they carried with them the folkways of the countryside into an inhospitable city slum. The size of family that may have been appropriate and tolerable on a manually cultivated farm was carried over to the jammed streets of the ghetto. In all respects Negroes were atomized, neglected and discriminated against. Yet, the worst omission was the absence of institutions to acclimate them to their new environment. Margaret Sanger, who offered an important institutional remedy, was unfortunately ignored by social and political leaders in this period. In consequence, Negro folkways in family size persisted. The problem was compounded when unrestrained exploitation and discrimination accented the bewilderment of the newcomer, and high rates of illegitimacy and fragile family relationships resulted.

For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life. There are mountainous obstacles still separating Negroes from a normal existence. Yet one element in stabilizing his life would be an understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family related in size to his community environment and to the income potential he can command.

This is not to suggest that the Negro will solve all his problems through Planned Parenthood. His problems are far more complex, encompassing economic security, education, freedom from discrimination, decent housing and access to culture. Yet if family planning is sensible it can facilitate or at least not be an obstacle to the solution of the many profound problems that plague him.

The Negro constitutes half the poor of the nation. Like all poor, Negro and white, they have many unwanted children. This is a cruel evil they urgently need to control. There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. That which should be a blessing becomes a curse for parent and child. There is nothing inherent in the Negro mentality which creates this condition. Their poverty causes it. When Negroes have been able to ascend economically, statistics reveal they plan their families with even greater care than whites. Negroes of higher economic and educational status actually have fewer children than white families in the same circumstances.

And he also supported the Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory prayer in public schools:

King supported the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down government-sponsored prayer in public schools. In a January 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, King was asked about one of those rulings. He not only backed what the court did, he noted that his frequent nemesis, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, stood on the other side.

“I endorse it. I think it was correct,” King said. “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.”

King was also staunchly anti-war and in favor of universal health care and a strong social welfare system. The notion that he would support conservatives today is absolutely laughable.

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