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Resisting the recasting of Martin Luther King

Jonathan P Hicks | 1/22/2013, 4:55 p.m.
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With the passage of time, there seems to be some miscalculation and misrepresentation about what the life of Martin Luther King actually represented. As the nation prepares to celebrate the official holiday commemorating the 84th birthday of the murdered civil rights leader, there are a wide range of activities and comments that range from the curious to the shocking when reviewing the life of King.

For some, the King weekend represents a time of shopping bonanzas. In recent years, it has been a time of sales and coupons from such stores as Old Navy, Macy's and JC Penney. That's not completely surprising. Since time marches on and memories of Montgomery and Selma have faded, there should be no surprise that a three-day weekend would produce some sales gimmicks. Marketing is, after all, the lifeblood of commerce in the United States.

Then there is the absurd. There are truly offensive commemorations of the King holiday weekend. None is more outlandish than that of Larry Ward, a major gun advocate who is the force behind the first ever "Gun Appreciation Day," which occurs, astonishingly, on the King weekend. Ward is part of a right-wing coalition that is calling on gun activists around the country to rally to promote their right to bear arms.

To grasp precisely how misguided Ward's thinking is, one need only consider his comments on CNN in defense of the nationwide gun rally. Ward argues that Gun Appreciation Day is intended as a day when gun owners can register their displeasure over President Barack Obama's tenacious effort to take action on controlling gun violence in the aftermath of the carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Taking a strong stand on gun ownership and condemning the president's actions on gun control actually "honors the legacy of Dr. King," Ward maintains.

"We are looking for a peaceful protest," Ward said. "I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."

As efforts to recast history go, this one takes the cake. The notion that Martin Luther King, the champion of nonviolent change, would somehow have cherished the idea of armed militias of Black people in any era of American history, is as absurd as it is outrageous.

First of all, King was killed by a gun and, moreover, he spent his entire adult life preaching about the folly of armed conflict. He even incurred the wrath of Americans--both Black and white--when he publicly opposed the war in Vietnam. He spoke passionately against the level of gun violence in the United States, calling it "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

It is understandable that some would mark the King weekend by offering sales for consumers, but what cannot be tolerated is changing the character of Martin Luther King. King was a Baptist minister who condemned violence in every form. He was the leading force in American history for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. To recast him differently is not only an assault upon his memory, but also upon the people of the nation for whom he cared so passionately.