Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration–what did you do?

January 18, 2007 | 51 comments
By

Over the past several days, I’ve attended some magnificent presentations at Utah Valley State College in commemoration on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Besides asking myself the obvious (“Why aren’t we doing this kind of thing at BYU?”), I have been taking notes and thinking about how my life can change because of the things I’ve heard and been engaged in. A few examples from the words of Keynoter Vincent Harding:
“The words in the Bible are not true because they’re in the Bible; they’re in the Bible because they’re true. The words Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount are not true because he said them, but because he KNEW them.”
I found myself in a supremely ironic moment as I left UVSC and turned on my radio—hearing the demeaning rhetoric of Sean Hannity finding new epithets for the democrats and liberals. His tone and words were so contrary to what I had just been a part of that it was actually shocking.
Here are a few examples of how Dr. Harding taught which touched me:
1) He asked that the audience come together so he could see our faces and feel like he was having a human experience. (We did.)
2) He said that the best teaching was done in dialogue, not as a lecture, and then engaged the audience in a probing discourse, asking each questioner’s name and then calling them by that name, finding something good to say about their questions, and moving them to larger circles. (He complimented a Native American for his question on Civil Rights and the plight of the reservations, and then suggested that we would do better to not distinguish ourselves as one race or people but as a brotherhood committed to the same cause in addressing oppression wherever we find it.)
3) He introduced me to MLK’s Riverside Speech, which I found tragically relevant today. King chose to oppose the Viet Nam War—despite the fact that LBJ had signed the Civil Rights Act and was set to sign the Voting Act. It was terribly risky for King to oppose this war, and many urged him not to do it. But ultimately, the completeness of King’s mission (which, Harding pointed out, was thoroughly based on King’s Christian commitment to “love your enemies”) made his opposition inevitable. King said these sadly prophetic words: “If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
The presentations left me with many thoughts, but I’ll let you comment just on these scanty notes, should you choose to.

51 Responses to Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration–what did you do?

  1. Greg Call on January 18, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Coincidentally, NYT columnist Bob Herbert wrote about the Riverside Church speech today, highlighting this quote: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

    On MLK day three years ago I posted excerpts from an unpublished 1964 speech that Dr. King gave (also at Riverside Church), called “A Knock at Midnight”: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=305

  2. Margaret Young on January 18, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    WOW!! What a wonderful speech, Greg. I’m going to print it and read it several times. I love this paragraph: Not only that, it is also midnight within the moral order. Midnight is a time when all colors lose their distinctiveness and become merely a sullen shade of gray. Certainly in the modern world in so many instances moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. Right and wrong in so many quarters are merely relative to our likes and our dislikes and our appetites and to the particular community in which we live, and so we have reduced morality to group consensus. We have come to believe that you discover what is right by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Everybody is doing it so it must be all right. This is the philosophy that pervades so many of our communities.

    Btw, in answer to the question of what I (meaning my family and I) did to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy–
    We went to an Indian restaurant in remembrance of Ghandi’s influence on King’s thought, and Bruce and I attended BYU’s “Walk of Life.” We HAVE come some distance. When Darius Gray (who I just assume everyone knows is my co-author) was a student at BYU in 1965, he unwittingly went to a movie at the Varsity Theater which he had heard was called “Civil Rights.” It was actually “Civil RIOTS” and was about the Civil Rights Movement as a Communist plot.
    So yes, baby, we’ve come a long way, but we have miles to go before we sleep.
    I actually am curious about how others spent the “holiday.” Dr. Harding expressed concern that it had become just that–a holiday, an excuse to play rather than a reason to remember.

  3. gst on January 18, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I got to work at 8 a.m. and for most of the day wondered where in the hell my employees were.

  4. anonymous Mormon on January 18, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    GST–what? You didn’t hear about the boycott?

  5. gst on January 18, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    That explains that.

  6. Craig V. on January 18, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    I spent sometime that day doing internet research on Vernon Johns. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much. Apparently, Vernon Johns did not keep copies of his sermons etc… What a loss for us.

  7. J. Stapley on January 18, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    The radio had many nice offerings that day.

    Thanks for the notes, Margaret, and I hope that BYU does better in the future.

  8. Ken on January 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I spent part of the day half-watching the History Channel and wondering why so much of the focus of the programming was on the controversy surrounding Dr. King’s death rather than on the remarkable things he accomplished in his life. Periodically, the show America’s Most Wanted will have brief spots featuring law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. The tag line for the spots is, which I believe is taken from the words of the national Fallen Officers Memorial in Washington D.C., is “It’s not how they died that made them heroes; it’s how they lived. I believe the same can be said of Dr. King.

  9. Tatiana on January 18, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I put on the speech he gave at the Montgomery Improvement Association that brought him into the national spotlight, the one he gave not long after Miss Rosa Parks was arrested and calling for the bus boycott. That’s one of my favorites. =)

  10. Thom on January 18, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    The usual:
    http://www.townonline.com/arlington/homepage/x2105351932

    We go the dinner, then Colleen (who is on the town\’s MLK Day commemoration committee) handles childcare during the program, while I handle child care at home. (Our girls are too young to stay out that late.) I\’m looking forward to maybe hearing the program, again, in a few years.

  11. Kent Larsen on January 18, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Best I could manage was listening to the NPR programs on MLK and watching the “I Have a Dream” speech on youtube.

    I did muse quite a bit when one of the guests on NPR’s “To The Point” called MLK a prophet. It occured to me that there are quite a lot of parallells between MLK and Samuel the Lamanite. They were both controversial outsiders because of their race whose contributions were only completely appreciated after their deaths. Remember, Christ himself had to ask that Samuel the Lamanite’s words be added to the Nephite records!

    I’m not sure what that means for MLK. In our Mormon context it is difficult to call him a prophet because it implies an ecclesiastical office in our hierarchy. But except for that, many of his words are near scripture, especially for our nation.

  12. Austin F. on January 19, 2007 at 1:58 am

    Margaret,

    I sense that there is some resentment of Dr. King in many LDS circles. At BYU-I they don’t even call it MLK day. Rather, they call it Civil Rights Day. I asked a few of my professors about this (including Rick Davis, who many of you may have heard got into some hot water for racially insensitive comments made on salon.com), and he went on a rant about MLK being an adulterer, etc. I

    I don’t know wheter that is true or not, but I can say that I feel MLK is an example of a person who applied Christianity in ways that many of Christ’s followers have failed to live, or perhaps even understand.

    Kent, it is only difficult in the context of Mormon culture, and not doctrine. In our Mormon culture it may be difficult to call a Sunday School teacher a prophet, but that doesn’t mean that doctrinally speaking a Sunday School teacher cannot be a prophet. I suppose t all depends on how liberally you’re willing to construe the term prophet.

  13. maria on January 19, 2007 at 3:16 am

    So I didn’t really celebrate MLK day this year, but I do have a story slightly on point. A couple years ago my younger brother won the UT high school MLK essay contest. His essay quoted many relevant portions of the Riverside speech (he was very politically active at the time, attending all the peace rallies, etc). All essay winners were invited to the annual MLK banquet at Hill AFB, and the original invitation indicated that each winner would be reading her/his essay to the audience as part of the awards ceremony. Apparently someone actually read his essay before the big day arrived, however, and there was an awkward “un-invite” to read his essay.

    I still think it was lame that the MLK people censored a 17 year old kid, who was quoting MLK directly, but whatever. He’ll have a good story to tell every MLK day for the rest of his life.

  14. Mary on January 19, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Here in West Lafayette, Indiana, the community and the Purdue U community supported a “day of service.” Volunteers were organized to work on different projects within the city. Oddly, even though I’m a full time employee at Purdue, I did not hear about the service until the day of, when it was reported on public radio. I spent the day with my daughter.

  15. JKC on January 19, 2007 at 10:20 am

    We watched video my favorite three speeches (I have a dream, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and the Riverside speech), and read some scripture stories that exemplify civil disobedience (Daniel and the Lions den, the three Hebrew children) and some that exemplify non-violence (Anti-Nephi-Lehis). I like that MLK is a holiday, in the sense of a holy-day. I definitely think we can call MLK a prophet in the old testament sense of the word, at least—one who takes an inspired message, often with a political and religious nature, to an unreceptive larger culture. Many of his words are certainly prophetic. Anyone ever read his account of how he was “called” to the civil rights movement? Definitely inspiring.

    I think Austin is right that calling a non-GA a prophet is problematic only in culture, not in doctrine. We casually call the president of the church “the prophet,” but the way I read the D&C he is more accurately referred to as the Presiding High Priest, or the President of the Church since all GAs are sustained by the church as prophets, and since both Moses and John talk about the importance of each one of God’s people being a prophet (I think this idea is closely related to the Gift of the Holy Ghost.) Since the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, the only requirement to being a prophet is faith in Christ (THE first principle of the gospel). You don’t even need to be baptized.

    As for MLK’s imperfections (adultery and plagiarism), I consider them a test. I think there is probably some truth to them, but I don’t know how much to believe. Regardless, they are widely believed, especially in conservative circles. But like I said, I consider his imperfections a test—they give a very convenient excuse to reject his message without considering its merits. But if you can accept the truth of what he taught and fought for, despite his imperfections, then you pass the test, in my opinion. Truth is truth, regardless of its source. (I suppose the same could be said, though perhaps on a different level, of Joseph Smith.) I try to remember that there is none that is righteous, no, not one, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of god, and if we say we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, etc., etc, motes and beams, etc. I try to have the attitude that even the most depraved sinner is better than me in at least one thing, and that to love that person means to recognize that fact and try to find the good things about that person. If I do, then I can learn from that person. For me, that’s what humility means—honoring the imperfect for their strengths and praising them for the good things that they do; casting their sins behind us, and learning from their good example..

    It’s sad to me that BYU persists in refusing to recognize the man whose life we celebrate on MLK day. Even the state of Utah came around a few years ago and changed the name of the holiday from “Human Rights Day” to “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.” BYU lags behind even the state of Utah.

  16. Blake on January 19, 2007 at 10:31 am

    I spent the day working to support the Federal and State employees who had the day off with pay and wondered how giving a day off with pay somehow promoted human rights. I spent the day wondering why MLK gets a day and all of our presidents together also get a single day — including without name recognition Abraham Lincoln who also said wonderfully inspiring things, “freed a lot of people” as they say, but I didn’t hear any of that. Have you read Lincoln’s second inaugural address? It is a masterpiece. I spent my time wondering how the politically correct could demonize those who didn’t accept their views while demonizing demonizing. I wondered if we could learn from the remarkable example of MLK and accept our brothers and sisters of color of all races — including American Indians who don’t have a day. I spent my time wondering how all of the rhetoric could be translated into real world action.

  17. John Taber on January 19, 2007 at 11:24 am

    The current BYU calendar calls it Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. When I was there (1990-92, 1994-96) they called it Human Rights Day. I wrote a letter to the Daily Universe in 1996 (an improvement, granted, over the one I’d written in 1995) basically saying, if you’re not going to recognize the man whose birthday it is, then why have the holiday at all?

    I found out around that time that even though people in Utah at the time tended to call it Human Rights Day, it had both names in the state code. (I’m not sure what the case is now.) Thus when I echoed USA Today to say it was MLK Day in Utah too, and the Deseret News said it was simply Human Rights Day, we were both half right. (And we each thought the other was completely wrong – as so often happens in politics.)

    Incidentally, the county I work for gives me Lincoln’s birthday off as a separate holiday from Washington’s birthday. So that I don’t have too many Mondays off in a row, I get the first and third Mondays off.

  18. Austin F. on January 19, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Just for the record, it was BYU-Idaho that calls it Civil Rights Day (or did back in ’02), not BYU. At the University of Iowa they sponsored a “pay it forward” initiative where people were encouraged to do good to others. A great idea, in my opinion.

    Blake I can understand your frustration, but there you can make an argument that nearly everyday is a day where the great former Presidents get their share of praise, and I think that there is truth to that. Think of elementary school….who did you learn about? Abe Lincoln, Geo. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln,FDR, JFK, etc., etc. Look at Mt. Rushmore for Pete’s sake. Growing up, (I’m a bit younger than you I’d say), we spent a week during February (Black History Month) and learned tidbits of history about MLK, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglas, and then we moved on to the Civil War and Industrial Revolution.

    But there is one thing I can agree with you on: it is time to move beyond the rhetoric.

  19. greenfrog on January 19, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    I actually am curious about how others spent the “holiday.”

    I used my free time that day working out some of the implications of my beliefs about consciousness and animal rights. I find both Gandhi’s and MLK’s thinking signficantly influence my understandings in those contexts.

  20. Matt W. on January 19, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    MLKjr did supposedly have extra-marital relations. (Wikipedia is pretty objective about it, if you want a quick scoop) Did that have anything to do with his message or his ministry? Alot of people in conservative groups condemn the “adulterer” but celebrate the civil rights.

    MLKjr’s phone tapping records will all be released in 2027, having been sealed up since 1977.

    I went to work on MLKjr day. It’s not a paid holiday anywhere I’ve ever worked.

  21. CJ Douglass on January 19, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    I watched the annual PBS documentary called \”Citizen King\”. I have to watch it every year.

    And Matt, I believe the CIA wiretap recorded him in a compromising conversation with another woman. I think \”extra-marital relations\” implies some sex act which was not the case.

  22. DavidH on January 19, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    I get the day off. In our community, we have a march of a few miles each year on MLK day from a Baptist Church downtown to a downtown park, where there is a festival with booths, stages, and the like. I have enjoyed participating in this festive march with my family in years past, and had planned to do so this year, but I was ill. White faces, like mine, are in the minority, but it is fun to see other people I know of all races and most religions (including, sometimes, other members of our ward).

  23. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    CJ, the evidence for King’s several extra-marital affairs is, unfortunately, pretty extensive, involving not just recordings from illegal FBI wiretaps (it was Hoover’s FBI, not the CIA, that targeted King), but also testimony that has since come forth from some of King’s closest associates, including Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Roy Wilkins, and others. Taylor Branch’s monumental three-volume history of “America in the King Years” includes all the information and more.

    I consider Martin Luther King, Jr., a prophet, in the best sense of the word: he was a truth-teller, a person who found himself the carrier of a message that needed to be heard. His courage (from the mid-50s onward, MLK rarely went a full week without having to deal with a death threat), ability to compromise, rhetoric, trust in God, long-range vision, and more all make him, I think, a profoundly admirable person…but ultimately, it is the message that makes the prophet, just as it is the Book of Mormon and the revelations that makes Joseph Smith, not went down in Nauvoo. His message changed over time, but only in its reach, going from blacks suffering legal harassment and violence, to all the poor and marginalized who lack a voice in our democracy. I think it is perfectly appropriate to have a holiday in his honor (though I think we should have separate ones for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and for that matter William Jennings Bryan too).

  24. CJ Douglass on January 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Russell,
    I stand corrected.

  25. Margaret Young on January 19, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    A couple of years ago, there were signs on the building where my office was housed: “Closed for Human Rights Day.” I had to teach and then planning on going directly to the administration building to insist that the signs be changed to the correct wording. By the time my class was over, however, they had already been changed.

    As to the human foibles of MLK, I acknowledge that they existed (though what you’ll find on some websites go far beyond the mark). I do have a problem when King–or anyone else–is reduced to a particular sin and summarily dismissed–which does happen. (I hadn’t heard the Rick Davis story.)

    I must say I envy those of you outside Utah. I tried for quite awhile to get something going among middle and high schools during Black History Month. I suspect things are better north of Provo, but around here it was very hard to get the kind of support we needed. We finally toured a little play about the most famous players in Black history. At one of the schools, the assistant principal said to the audience after our presentation, “We want to assure you of other cultures that we’ll be paying attention to your cultures as well.”
    The next time we did the presentation, I introduced it by saying that this was not simply a cultural play; this was AMERICAN history.
    When I’ve toured during February to do some school presentation in other states, I’ve been wowed by the amount of material they have, the attention they’re paying to the issues Dr. King raised, and the high place MLK Day and Black History Month take in the hierarchy of school activities. Perhaps it’s no surprise that in Provo we do so little; our Black population is pretty scant. Nonetheless, ignoring Black history is ignoring American history. The fact that just about every high school age kid in Provo one can tell who Eli Whitney was and what he invented (though we don’t use cotton gins anymore) but don’t have a clue who Medgar Evers was says something.

  26. Austin F. on January 19, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    You’ve got a great point, Margaret. I have no clue who Medgar Evans is.

  27. Matt W. on January 19, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve never lived in Uah and I have no idea who Medgar Evars is either. I went to a Catholic School though and we had more klan members than black people. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. “Black History” seems to be only shown where black people are, and seems to be less promoted where they aren’t.

  28. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Medgar Evers was a Mississippi civil rights activist who was murdered outside his home in 1963. The identity of the killer was widely known, but went unconvicted until 1994, when new evidence allowed a trial that finally resulted in a conviction. See here.

  29. jose on January 19, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    #26,#27 The story of Medgar Evers was popularized in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi” which starred Whoopi Goldberg as Evers’ wife. Actually I remember the widow of Medger Evers speaking at BYU shortly after the movie release.

    Margaret #24, I’d argue that the cotton gin (now automated) revolutionized the South’s agricultural basis, perhaps making slave labor more entrenched. This invention has wider implications to understanding the industrial-agrarian divide in antebellum America. Though Medger’s struggles provide a deep moral example of courage, with limited time (and student attention span) in a classroom teachers are often forced to choose which message to deliver. If choosing between a mechanism which enthroned the cotton crop as King of the South and a single civil rights fighter, the former–I argue–should win. However it is decisions like this that make history biased and subjective either way.

  30. Scott Fife on January 19, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    MLK was an ordained Baptist minister who had a “problem with women,” as his close friend Ralph Abernathy stated. MLK was a preacher who was also a womanizer, not unlike Jimmy Swaggart. This makes MLK a hypocrite of the worst kind. An ordained minister on one hand–a womanizer/adulterer on the other. There were two women with him in his motel room the night before he was killed. This is not a minor blemish, that we can just sweep under the rug. Shouldn’t we hold “men of the cloth” to a higher standard?

    Also, a few years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported there was overwhelming evidence that MLK plagerized his doctorial thesis.

    MLK stated that we should judge men by their character. What better way to judge a man than by the way he conducts his private life–when nobody is watching and the news cameras are turned off. That’s the true identity and character of a man.

    I cannot honor an ordained minister of any color, who’s private life is so contrary to the teachings of the scriptures he espouses from the pulpit every Sunday.

    May I suggest Booker T. Washington as a truly great African American to give great honor to, not MLK. By the way, I consider one of the highlights of my life to be the day I shook hands with 1936 Olympic star, Jesse Owens, after he had spoken to a BYU student assembly at the Smith Fieldhouse in the early 1970′s. Another great African American worthy of honor.

  31. Ana on January 19, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    I theoretically had the day off work, but it\’s crazy right now, so I worked half a day and felt guilty about it. Then I watched Batman with my kids all afternoon and we had a MLK Day Family Home Evening where we read 2 Nephi 26:33 and watched \”I Have a Dream\” on YouTube. I repeated the message my multiracial kids (age 7 – black, age 5 – black/white, and age 7 weeks – Mexican/white) are probably already getting sick of — Heavenly Father doesn\’t care where you came from or who your parents are or what you look like. He cares what choices you make. To me, that is one of the greatest message of the Book of Mormon. I love it.

    When we lived in Utah, BYU hosted a one-day conference of Families for African American Awareness, a transracial adoption support group, during February for Black History Month. We were only able to attend a couple of times, but we really appreciated this event. Does anybody know if it\’s still done?

  32. Ana on January 19, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Scott, I understand your concerns, but I think we’re honoring the GOOD Dr. King did. Plenty of other important leaders (even our own in the Church) have been imperfect in many ways, but still done a lot of wonderful things. I think we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment if we think people have to be perfect in order to be worth praising at all.

  33. Margaret Young on January 19, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Scott–I don’t believe the Savior would agree with your assessment of Martin Luther King, and the Savior will be the ultimate judge. I agree that Booker T. Washington was a great man, but his vision was limited by the life he had led (Up from SLAVERY) and by what he thought possible. I would never have a student study Booker T. without also studying WEB Dubois. (Dubois did not have much regard for Washington.)
    As to history textbooks–Jose, I do see your point. I manhandle and supplement my children’s textbooks as I try to teach them history. The texts offer far too much information in the most boring way possible. It has long been my goal to write a U.S. history book that would actually be interesting. (Public schools would probably not accept me as a credible author, since I don’t have a PhD in history, but we have new schools which might really enjoy the hands-on, highly visual approach I’d take.) Currently, according to my son’s history teacher, the textbooks are written “by committee.” I personally think they’re written by historians who want no competition in the future and therefore bore the students so thoroughly that none of the students will aspire to anything beyond the most cursory glance at the past.

  34. Margaret Young on January 19, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    I had to find out who Rick Davis is and what he had said. Oh my. Here’s the quote from a newspaper:

    One of Anderson’s BYU-I colleagues, a conservative professor of humanities named Rick Davis, offers a different sort of testament to the appeal of the area and the politics of its residents. Davis has lived in a lot of different places, he says, and he knows that people are different all over. Even Mormons are different. Davis contrasts his neighbors with Massachusetts Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney is a “Boston Mormon,” notes Davis, not to be confused with “Rexburg Mormons,” who, he says, are “so red that you just bleed.”

    Davis is definitely a Rexburg Mormon. I ask him about his thoughts on George W. Bush, and he launches into an explanation about how much worse off we’d all be if Al Gore had moved into the White House six years ago. “Oh, heaven help us,” he says. “No leadership, zero, which is the way Clinton was, too.” Clinton got away with a lot because the press is so liberal, Davis insists; Bush is “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” because people just don’t understand that we could all be at the mercy of nuclear-armed terrorists if the United States doesn’t prevail in Iraq.

    People in Madison County? They get it, Davis says. He’s been around, after all, and he’s come to understand that “anything that’s cosmopolitan is liberal, and anything that’s small is conservative.” But why is Madison County so overwhelmingly conservative? “There’s more Mormons here, and they’re better educated,” he says. “We have a very high education level in this town, a very high income level in this town. Now, that equates with being conservatives. We’re fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it doesn’t grow on the great tree in Washington. We don’t have any welfare state in this area at all. We don’t have blacks in this area to speak of. We’ve had them, and they’ve come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they’ve just felt uncomfortable because there aren’t enough of them — like you and me moving to Montgomery, Alabama.“

  35. Kaimi Wenger on January 19, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Margaret,

    One of the elephants in the room, though, is that some church leaders (particularly then-Elder Benson) were publicly critical of MLK in life. I mean, for heaven’s sake, there’s a General Conference address by Elder Benson suggesting that MLK (and the entire civil rights movement) was a ploy by communists to take over the country. It was controversial to announce about MLK’s assassination in general conference later (see Prince’s David O. McKay bio).

    What do we do with that kind of history? I certainly hope, like you, that church members would appreciate MLK, but it’s entirely reasonable that members – particularly the somewhat older generation – would choose otherwise. They’ve been told not to, from the pulpit, repeatedly.

  36. Scott Fife on January 20, 2007 at 2:53 am

    Maybe the older generation is more critical of MLK, because we knew the real MLK, unlike the scrubbed version presented today by media and educators. The Church leaders back then were also aware of MLK’s dark side. However, MLK’s tragic murder was acknowledged and sympathy expressed to MLK’s family in the April 1968 General Conference, by Pres. Hugh B. Brown who was conducting. Elder Benson’s remarks in the Oct 1967 Gen Conf did not mention MLK by name, and must be viewed in the context of the times. There was in fact an ugly, violent side to parts of the civil rights movement–Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and other civil rights leaders who disagreed with MLK, and advocated civil disobedience. At the time, Church leaders in SLC had received threats of possible attacks on Temple Square.

    MLK was a man with two lives: public and private. In his public life he was a clean machine. He was a minister of God, thumping the Bible, preaching righteousness, the importance of the Ten Commandments, following Jesus, and being true to your marriage vows. He was also a civil rights leader–making wonderful speeches, leading marches, talking to the media. His private life on the other hand was filled with debauchery of all kinds, including es, s, profanity, and even plagerism. I do not believe the Savior would approve of such hypocritical behavior. We will be judged by our works, and will be held accountable for the choices we make in this life, especially those all important choices we make in our unseen private life. These private choices are the real measure of a man or woman.

    On MLK Day I choose not to honor his name. MLK’s personal behavior speaks far louder than any of his speeches. Kaimi–what do we do with that kind of history? Cover it up, scrub it up, deny, and say “well, no one is perfect, he lived a good public life.”

  37. CW on January 20, 2007 at 4:58 am

    It is interesting how ones perspective is influenced by your age. I am 52 years old, so I remember watching the race riots on TV. They seemed to last all summer. And I also remember the little sound bites of King, urging people to stop the violence. I was too young to be aware of the details of his private life. But I still respect him, or at least his teachings, based on what I remember. I wonder what my perspective would be if I were just a little older and hence might have been aware of the issues in his private life.

    I was sent on my mission by a stake president that was excommunicated later. His teachings were also influential in my life, and those teachings are still made reference to by myself and others in this stake. On more than one occaison, somebody has responded to the mention of his teachings by reminding us that he has been excomunicated. The response has always been, that his excomunication does not make his true teachings any less true.

    And I worked on MLK day, as almost all self employed people did. The same as Presidents Day.

  38. Russell Arben Fox on January 20, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Scott (and others):

    1. Next to no one–outside of MLK’s innermost circle, his wife Coretta, and those FBI agents who illegally tracked his every move and phone conversation–knew about his infidelities at the time. Unless J. Edgar Hoover shared this information with Elder Benson (which, I suppose, is possible, if unlikely; they did know and respect each other), certainly no one in the church hierarchy knew for certain about his behavior. The distrust of him and his movement on the part of some church leaders was almost wholly a result of the belief that they were advocating lawlessness (which was false), that they were being needlessly confrontational (which is a matter of debate), and that they were or were being manipulated by communists (which was a massive oversimplification, as well as arguably besides the point of the movement).

    2. The charge of hypocrisy is valid, but not particularly strong, as any reading of MLK’s sermons will show that he did not, in fact, mostly see himself as a moral advocate and reformer; Malcom X, by contrast, talked far more about sexual fidelity, marriage vows, personal cleanliness, etc., than did MLK. From the mid-1950s on (when he was only in his twenties…he wasn’t even yet 40 when he was murdered), MLK found himself in a leadership position of a movement that had been building for years; whatever his personal druthers, he was now called open to articulate, night after night, a call for social justice and hope, and thankfully he had the spiritual gifts to do so.

    3. “I do not believe the Savior would approve of such hypocritical behavior. We will be judged by our works, and will be held accountable for the choices we make in this life, especially those all important choices we make in our unseen private life. These private choices are the real measure of a man or woman.”

    That the Lord hates hypocrisy I agree is true. That we will be judged (compassionately, sustained by God’s grace) by our works I agree with. That we will be held accountable for all our choices, especially those involving our family and those closest to us, I also agree with. But the notion that when we are judged the matter of how we performed our private roles will in every way be more weighty than how we performed our public ones, that they and they alone are our “real measure”? That is, I think, neither true, nor–not to put too fine a point on it–doctrinal.

  39. Kristine Haglund Harris on January 20, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Also not scriptural–many of David’s important triumphs come after his great sins; there’s no evidence that the Lord did not continue to honor David for what he did right, or even that the Lord was not able to use David as an instrument *even while he was at the height of his hypocrisy*.

    I’ll go farther than Russell: the notion that public virtue is less important than private perfection is not merely false; is one of Satan’s great weapons against Zion.

  40. Adam Greenwood on January 20, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    MLK Day is too often observed by denouncing others for not observing it sufficiently.

  41. K. on January 20, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    “MLK Day is too often observed by denouncing others for not observing it sufficiently.”

    Based on…let me see…no evidence whatsoever in this 40-comment thread. Very nice.

  42. Margaret Young on January 20, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t know if I qualify as the “older generation,” but I’m near it. And no, we did not know anything about King but his passionate commitment to equality not just for Blacks but for any oppressed people. I remember the rumors which circulated throughout Utah (often referred to as the Horseshoe prophecy) that Blacks were planning on “invading Temple Square.” The Church had to publicly disavow this rampant rumor (presented to my family by our home teacher), and later research revealed that it was likely an attempt to foment hysteria and suspicion about the Civil Rights Movement by those who viewed it as a Communist plot.
    To date, I am aware of two Black Panthers who have joined the LDS Church: Eldridge Cleaver (who died inactive) and Ron McClain, who is currently a sealer in the Oakland Temple. I have heard Martin Luther King quoted by Elder Alexander Morrison while he was a member of the Seventy,. and I recognize the great esteem in which he is held by many General Authorities–not to mention the rest of us Latter-day Saints. (The list supplied in this blog of the activities many engaged in to honor King attest to his impact.)
    The LDS Church makes a point of having a prominent place at the Martin Luther King Commission luncheon, showing support for everything King stood for.
    So what about his sins? The answer reverberates so strongly in me. The Savior, when honoring a “bad woman” by allowing her to anoint his feet was scolded by some who knew her reputation. His reply is one of my favorite scriptures: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”
    It is easy for us to disregard someone because we are aware of their human foibles. We could disregard many of the Founding Fathers because they were slaveholders. And as far as the adulterers who participated in forming the United States of America, we would need to dismiss Benjamin Franklin with a sound spanking, Thomas Jefferson, and a good many signers of the Declaration of Independence. As far as presidents go, not only the most publicized (JFK and Clinton) but Eisenhower and FDR would need to be expunged from our books because they had “trouble with women.”
    Thankfully, we are all far greater than our individual sins. And we are all redeemable. But those who have truly built bridges which even today we are crossing need to be remembered so that their work isn’t undone by the constant impulse to divide and dismiss.

  43. Austin F. on January 20, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I remember reading that Elder Faust worked with MLK or MLK’s followers at one point during the 60s. I can’t remember where I read it, but it would be an interesting to find out if it is true.

  44. Norbert on January 20, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    I teach MLK speeches as literature to my international students, almost none of whom are American, of African descent or otherwise. It is fascinating to see their response. Besides being awestruck by the quality of the writing, generally they are sincerely moved, and I am anually amazed by the essays I get from Brits, Russians, South African and Koreans who are far too young to have any real idea of what King was involved in historically.

    Having read the 10-12 speeches I teach and some biography quite carefully, I would say King is a bit more complex than he is presented in the iconography and sloganism of popular culture. I’ll admit I balked at the idea of calling him a prophet, but maybe it works with Russell’s definition. All in all, he was a great man willing to die for his ideas, ideas which made the country and perhaps the world a better place than it could have been otherwise and which stand the test of time.

    BTW, I forgot about it, but my podcast of Morning Becomes Eclectic had a great tribute.

  45. Russell Arben Fox on January 20, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Norbert,

    Good to hear from you, as always. I’ve used that particular definition of prophet–”truth-teller”–a couple of times before on T&S, in reference to Hugh Nibley and Pope John Paul II. I think it actually fits into our doctrine quite well.

    And wait–you’re a podcaster?! Send us a link, man; I want to hear what you have to say.

  46. shannon on January 20, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    I was born in 1972 and can only remembering hearing good of MLK when I was growing up – interesting to read of his imperfections. Of course I grew up in small-town Missouri, where there was virtually no racial strife (or else I was oblivious to it). Now living in the South, I’ve learned that others have entirely different perspectives. Just as an example, around here many refer to MLK day as Lee-Jackson-King day (they love their Civil War heroes), and others tend to roll their eyes at the holiday. For our MLK holiday, I checked out a book and cassette reading for kids about MLK that we read together. I’m glad we can celebrate the good things he taught and did.

  47. DKL on January 20, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Glad to hear you listen to Sean Hannity!

    I think Harding is off the mark on teaching as lecture vs teaching as dialogue. Sure, it sounds nice. But for dialogue to work, there must be some kind of fluid knowledge exchange — both people learning but neither actually teaching. If you’re teaching through dialogue, then you’re probably being pretty irritating through condescension and preachiness. Socrates comes to mind. Plato makes him seem a sympathetic character, but it’s easy to see through the smokescreen that he was a real [watch your language, DKL--the management].

  48. queuno on January 21, 2007 at 1:52 am

    Last year, my daughter’s third grade teacher assigned every student a historic figure for black history month; they had to do research and write a report. My daughter drew (pun intended) Charles Drew. It’s definitely a different era when my children are telling my parents all about MLK, but my parents knew very little details about him (despite living through that time frame).

  49. Margaret Young on January 21, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Nice to hear from you, DKL. Harding’s method was demonstrated by example, and was very effective. He gave a presentation which oriented the audience on his subject matter–MLK: The Inconvenient Hero (dealing specifically with his opposition to the Viet Nam War) and then guided the dialogue masterfully. I would assume that if this were a year long class rather than a one hour presentation, the dialogue would have been much deeper. In my own teaching, I acknowledge that I do know more than my students do about the subject, but I label myself a FACILITATOR rather than a teacher. I help them find their own mentors among the writers available to them. Of course I can do that in creative writing, but I likely wouldn’t be able to do it in biology. I wonder what would really happen were I to teach history. My own biases are so strong that I can’t imagine they wouldn’t make their way into the course. I don’t think I could teach a lesson on Andrew Jackson objectively, because I recognize the consequences of his policies.
    As for Sean Hannity–well, I find that if I’m unable to get to the gym, Hannity works quite well in getting my heartrate up and my sweat glands pumping. Unfortunately, I also find that I have a lethal vocabulary which only he brings out. (I listen to KSL for weather and news, and Hannity takes over at 1:00–which is a subject for another time.)

  50. DKL on January 23, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Sean Hannity is great fun, Margaret. Polemics are the satirical poetry of the 21st century. Here’s my tip for enjoying Hannity: Every time you feel the urge to swear at the radio, just laugh. You’ll learn to love the guy. I mean, he’s no Ann Coulter, but he gets in some real zingers just the same.

    As far as the lecturer vs the facilitator approach (I take it you mean by facilitator something along the lines of the leading questions that Socrates asks in the Meno to demonstrate that the slave boy already knows geometry), I think you recognize that this is still different from dialogue. You can call yourself whatever you like, but your still teaching in an up-down type relationship.

    Moreover, I think that there are as many ways to be a terrific teacher as there are terrific teachers (though surely there are many more ways to be a bad teacher than there are bad teachers). I’ve had facilitator-type teachers and I’ve had lecture-from-the-pulpit type teachers, and I haven’t found one or the other to be consistently better.

    I can understand your statement about biases in teaching. I could never teach Abraham Lincoln for the same reason. (Not that anyone would pay me to teach history, but you know what I mean.)

  51. TR on February 13, 2007 at 2:38 am

    i still didn\’t get how Martin luther king and Socrates are different or in what way they are different?

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.