Martin Luther King Jr.’s platform has value for people on all points of the political spectrum
Martin Luther King Jr. Day has come and gone.
We got a Monday off, and some degree of media reference to the civil rights leader, but did we take any lessons away from the holiday? How much do we know about Martin Luther King Jr. and the kind of man he was?
Some would think King is a man most appreciated by the left, by the minorities for whom he was the champion. King, though, also espoused many beliefs that appeal to me as well, both as a conservative and as an American.
Almost everyone knows the “I Have a Dream” line. It is an oft-quoted King classic, and in one line of the mantra, we hear the words of the Declaration, that “All men are created equal.” In another line shortly thereafter, we find both a drive for liberal change and a hope for a conservative ideal — that of a color-neutral society: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Conservatives believe, as did King, that people should be seen independent of the color of their skins, that “all men are created equal.” He, and we today, balk at the idea of classification practices, practices which, by their very nature, reduce us as people to different colors of skin. The Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas is one such example, where a white girl applying to school was rejected by a university which, like many universities today, makes use of race as one criterion in its admissions process, in order to further diversity on campus. I cannot help but wonder what King would have to say on that subject.
King was a pastor, and a man of compassion and responsibility. He found inspiration in the work of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent efforts to integrate blacks into American society were criticized by the more radical black activists like Malcolm X. King spoke against the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, and also disagreed with the violence of the Black Panther Party.
He also grew up as a man of responsibility. He took responsibility for his failings — for instance, his arrest in Atlanta in 1960 — and worked to change the circumstances in which he found himself, rather than foregoing the effort and merely blaming those circumstances. He believed that real, lasting change could only be instituted when African Americans themselves took action. These beliefs can be found in his speech “Where Do We Go from Here?”: “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation or Johnsonian Civil Rights Bill can totally bring this kind of freedom. The Negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own Emancipation Proclamation.”
All of this is not to say that Martin Luther King Jr. is my idol, or the idol of conservatives in general. He was an outspoken advocate of spending the money used for Vietnam at home instead, in order to ameliorate the plight of the poor. King called for a “radical redistribution of wealth” — words we have heard from President Obama and the far left of today.
Both political parties will pick and choose the quotes they want in order to portray King as this or that, but a true knowledge of the man himself is an endeavor well worth the time. In researching King, I discovered a greater appreciation for the man he was, and found some preconceived notions of mine disproved along the way. He was, and is still, a fascinating and motivational person, and it is little wonder that President Reagan set a day apart in order to remember him. Though politically left in many regards, Martin Luther King Jr. was also a realist with a dream, a hard worker and a man of God — as well as a man who embodied many characteristics that the Republican Party holds dear.
_Sam Novack’s column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at