Sunday, January 15, 2006

As America celebrates the birth 77 years ago of the man who changed his name to Martin Luther King Jr., it’s worth noting that, while King is famously renowned for his selfless dedication to fighting, nonviolently, segregation and discrimination, it is another side of the Baptist preacher that will be heralded today at in North Carolina and New York. It is a political face that many Americans, across the generations, are unaware. More importantly, it is not the face of a Nobel Peace winner that led to his honor today with a national holiday.

In New York City today, Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton are scheduled to “lock arms” in solidarity with the Rev. Al Sharpton New York State Attorney general Eliot Spitzer and their sisters and brothers in the labor movement to honor King. The event is touted as the “nation’s largest MLK Day Event,” and includes a march and rally of more than 10,000 members of the transport workers union and the Service Employees International Union. The labor officials claim home health-aides — “often women, single mothers and recent immigrants who are often the sole providers for their families” — “continue to be among the poorest paid workers in New York.”

Well below the Mason-Dixon demarcation, in Durham, N.C., Harry Belafonte is slated today to give the annual MLK “commemorative” address at Duke University. You needn’t be a student of history to know that Mr. Belafonte is an ardent disciple of the anti-Bush and antiwar crowds, having called the president a tyrant and an appointee a house slave. Duke officials said they unanimously selected Mr. Belafonte as a speaker because he and King were closely aligned.

Indeed, the King-Belafonte relationship is well known, as Mr. Belafonte, like untold others, literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder with King during the height of the civil rights movement. But while we know that King would be as strident a defender of free speech today as he was in his lifetime, we doubt he would encourage or condone his erstwhile brother’s venomous attacks on Colin Powell and others.

To be sure, King, whose birth name was Michael, was a self-styled democratic socialist — an ideological posture that many Americans simply do not know about. But he also was much more — a minister, father and husband, cofounder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a profound orator who inarguably led to the downfall of Jim Crow. (Some Democrats are still in denial.)

America celebrates the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today not because of his socialist idealism, but because of what he accomplished in spite of it. It’s unfortunate that the unions, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Schumer and Mr. Belafonte would gray today with their distorted political views. Today of all days, we should not tarnish the legacy of a man who helps today’s youth keep their eyes on the prizes of faith, education and a better America.

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