*The monument to 20th Century social change leader, and some say 20th Century Prophet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was finally dedicated this weekend on the National Mall. On the 16th Anniversary of the Million Man March, the President of the United States reminded us that King’s struggle for social change was a protracted one.
People forget that the Civil Rights Movement was actually a counter-movement to the ten year long “Massive Resistance” that took place from 1954 to 1964. Called Massive Resistance, it was an organized movement to reject and resist the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, outlawing ‘Separate But Equal” or de jure segregation (racial separation by law). The movement wasn’t just a grassroots reaction.
The resistance was from Congress to Statehouses to local government, who defended the culture and the norms of Jim Crow. One hundred and one Southern Congresspersons (82 House members and 19 Senators) signed “The Southern Manifesto” in 1956 stating that the Supreme Court had overstepped its bound and had infringed upon “States Rights.” It also called for the impeachment of Chief Justice, Earl Warren.
The Massive Resistance movement spread across a third of the nation and was the second greatest populist protest movement, outside of the Civil War, in this nation’s history, but lasted more than twice as long as the Civil War. More than 300 books have been written about the Civil War. Less than a dozen has been written about Massive Resistance, largely because many of the “resisters” are still living and are trying to erase that bitter and volatile history. It is a history that can never be erased and never be run from because of the counter-resistance movement King led and the ugly way this period ended. Martin Luther King, Jr. will always be a scar on our nation’s conscience.
Why? Because King sought to exert love, peace and non-violence to an extremely hostile and violent nation, who was resisting the change of the day. King exhausted every peaceful remedy over a thirteen year period to change the mentality of a racially deranged nation—some suggest to much avail while others suggest to no avail. The reality is that America never seriously took up a civil rights bill until King was the scene and pulled back the cover on southern racial hostilities with the Birmingham marches in 1963. This compelled John F. Kennedy to introduce civil rights legislation and many suggest it was only passed in memoriam to the late President as implored by his successor, Lyndon Johnson—the first Southern President since Andrew Johnson after Lincoln was assassinated. By the way, the 13th Amendment was also signed in memoriam to Lincoln who was killed by a confederate sympathizer. Guilt ended slavery, and guilt put an end to emotional segregation. The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, a full ten years after Brown and that’s when the signs came down, but it only intensified the country’s distain for King, who was ultimately killed in the midst of an anti-poverty movement while giving support to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. America knew things had gone too far, but the “King of Love” was dead.
Killing King almost assured America would burn in hell as over 200 cities rioted, but three days later came the Fair Housing Act and a watered down anti-lynching act (America has never passed a stand alone anti-lynching law in its history) as this post-mortem politic continued. The after the fact legislation was passed in memoriam to King, but the scars over King’s death run deep. In the 20th Century, they gave him a federal holiday and have co-opted “the dream.” King meant different things to different people, but one thing is for sure…America, black and white, had not gotten over King’s death—not if you have any sort of a conscience. With the monument, the post mortem “In Memoriam” for Martin Luther King, Jr. continues almost a half a century after his death. Celebrating him in death more than in life but this is significant.
America’s guilt seems to always arrive a minute too late after someone takes it a little too far. In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., it was 43 years late…but not too late to remind us what King truly met to the social evolution of the nation. Maybe the nation had not gone far enough in acknowledging what it had or in what King had done. America build monuments to its heroes, a constant reminder of the contributions such heroes have made to society. The National Mall is reserved for Presidents and war heroes…mostly Presidents though. The greatness of America is in the men who built it and the men (and one day women) who defended its truest creed, liberty.
A monument would suggest that Martin Luther King, Jr. is now a certified and documented “National Hero,” in perpetuity, for everyone who ever visits the national mall from here on out. He probably is the only one (Lincoln included) who demanded liberty AND justice for all people. King took the “White Only” sign down off the nation’s most hallowed ground—its national mall. I mean, we could go there but only to look at other people’s heroes—who we were TOLD was ours too—but we only have suspect evidence of that. Still, we couldn’t put up any statues of our own…until this past weekend. King is the first non-President, non-war hero, non-WHITE MAN on the mall. He’s also the first (mostly) privately funded monument (but that’s another article). If the people didn’t make it happen, it would’ve happened. It meant that much to us. Hopefully, it means that much to the nation. They only put these up every 40 or 50 years.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is now more than a scar on the nation’s conscience, that we artificially celebrate once a year. He is now in his rightful place as a national hero who changed the course, and the culture, of this nation. He now has a physical space in this nation’s capital…Like all the other MAJOR heroes we honor, on the nation mall.
A true “American Hero,” with a monument to match his accomplishment…and his sacrifice…for the good of the nation. Let the record now reflect it.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.