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by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World
Not meaning to be picky or to challenge those who worked with corporations to fund the Memorial built in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, but I had to mention this. Someone sent me a message today stating that he’d been told during a meeting with the heads of the committee to build the memorial that race and racial inequality had been deliberately excluded from all of the quotes on the MLK Memorial. According to the witness who sent me the message, the individual who made the decision to leave out Dr. King’s quotes on race and racial inequality felt that for his children, race isn’t a factor and that he wanted the memorial to go beyond race.
Here is what the person said in his message:
“Harry E. Johnson head of the King memorial told the group I was with when we received a tour of the memorial that the memorial intentionally did not have any quotes about race and that themes of the memorial intentionally avoided dealing with racial inequality. Mr. Johnson reasoned that for his children race isn’t an issue and that this memorial needed to go beyond race. I was blown away and saddened that somehow a King memorial would be allowed to be created that intentionally avoided the issue of race and racial inequality an issue that was at the center of Dr. King’s life work.”
I took a look at the list of quotes on the Martin Luther King Memorial and noticed that the words “black,” “negro” or “racism” do not exist anywhere in the list of statements by Dr. King. In addition to the exclusion of words relating to race (other than a quote about transcending race, which is sure to please any post-racial enthusiast), there is little to no reference to Dr. King’s lifelong struggle for racial equality in America. One small exception is a quote calling for us to commit ourselves to the “noble struggle for equal rights,” which can apply to equality for everyone, which doesn’t specifically reference race. This reminds me of the age old argument that the Black civil rights struggle is no different from the struggles of the gay community, animal rights groups and everyone else (remember when PETA ran ads comparing dogs to slaves?).
I am not sure if those on the committee to design the memorial were unaware that Dr. King spent much of his life fighting for racial equality, or if they somehow concluded that the struggle was implied. But I am not surprised that in a nation where discussing racial inequality is politically costly, that this issue would be left off the table. It’s hard to argue that Dr. King would not be uniquely appalled by the fact that Black unemployment is nearly double that of whites, that Black men are being incarcerated at a rate that is seven times greater than white men, or that Black children are being sent to woefully underfunded schools in the inner city. If that’s not inequality, then I don’t know what is.
I’m sure Harry Johnson and others who were able to raise $120 million from companies like Walmart to build the monument are good men. At the same time, Black men are rewarded for having a certain style of thinking when it comes to getting money from the pockets of our historical oppressors (I’m sure I’ll never get much money from Walmart). I encourage Mr. Johnson to rethink his position and perhaps issue an explanation regarding why Dr. King should somehow be ashamed of his lifelong advocacy for Black men, women and children. If Dr. King had not been a Black man in America, he would never have become Dr. King.