In the years since his life became memorialized with a national holiday, Martin Luther King has morphed in the eyes of many Americans into something that is barely recognizable to anyone who seriously studied his life.
There have been figures on the right who have recast King as a conservative Republican, taking some of his words about the need for African-Americans to take responsibility for their lives and their direction as evidence that the slain civil rights leader was opposed to federal assistance in the lives of Black people.
The most recent example of such madness comes at the hand of Ted Nugent, the rock musician known increasingly for fanatical statements. Nugent has stated that African-Americans cannot “honestly celebrate the legacy of Dr. King” until they “admit to the self-inflicted destructo-derby they are waging and begin to tell their liberal Democratic slave drivers to take a hike.”
He says that there is a culture of self-destruction in the Black community and, in an interview, said that a recent video of a Black toddler in Nebraska being coaxed into cursing by adults serves as evidence that the nation’s African-American community had failed to live up to the legacy of King.
It is impossible, of course, to accurately determine what King would think of the various shifts in African-American life that have taken place since his death in 1968. All we are left with is his record, his history and his life’s work.
For one thing, King was not a member of a party. And, although his father was a Republican, as were many African-Americans of that era, the GOP of today would be patently unrecognizable to the one that King's father was apart of. It is unthinkable that King, the champion of expanding voting rights and access to opportunity for African-Americans would feel at home in the Republican Party of 2014, whose leaders are working feverishly to impose restrictive laws aimed at making it more challenging for Black people to cast ballots.
It’s hard to imagine King, a man who lost his life while seeking higher pay for sanitation workers, celebrating a Republican Party that callously turns a cold shoulder on more than a million jobless Americans by not extending their unemployment benefits during the Christmas holiday season.
King certainly was not tolerant of Black people misusing opportunities they were afforded to improve their lives. But he was not one who castigated his fellow African-Americans without looking at the systemic, historical reasons for any such behavior.
It’s best for folks like Nugent, when inclined to make off-handed references to King, to either reflect accurately the views and history of the slain civil rights leader or, better still, say nothing whatsoever.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)