A thinker, a strategist, a flawed man, a great man. Today I am grateful for Michael King Jr., renamed by his father for the Protestant hero Martin Luther after a pre-WWII visit to Germany.
I had my first full decade of life in the 1980's, the era of Star Wars, Back To The Future, E.T., Garfield, and The Cosby Show. I never knew the world before Reagan except in archival footage and textbooks. My toys and clothes came from garage sales and hand-me-downs from other church kids' families. I knew well the 'zip-zip' sound of corduroy pants. I grew up in Albuquerque Public Schools, where half of my classmates were Hispanic, with names like Sanchez and Chavez and Baca, and I didn't have a Black classmate until Albuquerque High School.
My favorite sitcoms were ALF and The Cosby Show. ALF was the story of an adopted outsider, a weirdo who disrupted a middle-class family's home with antics and humor. The Cosby Show was the story of a middle-class family in New York, and how the professional parents raised their many children right. From ALF I learned about the existence of alcoholism; from The Cosby Show I learned about the existence of dining rooms. From ALF I learned about the national security state which was ready at any moment to burst in with guns drawn; from The Cosby Show I learned about the grand legacy of Historically Black Colleges. I identified with the kids, Brian Tanner and Rudy Huxtable, who were both my age. If ALF and The Cosby Show had ever had a crossover, Dr. Cliff Huxtable and ALF would have riffed off each other for a solid half-hour of laughs.
Once I left high school, I discovered to my dismay that people consider ALF the more realistic show.
Back to Dr. King.
Civil rights bills and amendments had been making progress leading up to his "I Have a Dream" speech, given at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. On November 22, 1963, the man who had proposed the legislation, President John F. Kennedy, was murdered most foully while the bill was being filibustered. Nobody knew for certain who did it, but the moment was as shocking to the Negro people of America as the slaying of The Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln.
Tons of history has been written about these events and personalities. I'm here to be grateful to Dr. King for the one truly lasting thing he did: he called on America to remember its founding promise of freedom:
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
His speech insists that the Negro continue the path of nonviolent awakening of America to her faults, and called upon the conscience of Americans in power, through what we would come to call mistake theory instead of conflict theory. This is what I, as an American of late Generation X, am grateful for.
But D.C. being D.C., the government used the opportunity of freeing one group to restrict all, as Barry Goldwater said was happening:
I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard. This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never be cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help—laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.
...[mentions his support for 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights bills, and the calm deliberation Congress used to be known for]...
It was in this context that I maintained high hopes for this current legislation—high hopes that, notwithstanding the glaring defects of the measure as it reached us from the other body and the sledgehammer political tactics which produced it, this legislation, through the actions of what was once considered to be the greatest deliberative body on earth, would emerge in a form both effective for its lofty purposes and acceptable to all freedom‐loving people.
It is with great sadness that I realize the nonfulfillment of these high hopes. My hopes were shattered when it became apparent that emotion and political pressure, not persuasion, not common sense, not deliberation, had become the rule of the day and of the processes of this great body. One has only to review the defeat of common‐sense amendments to this bill — I amendments that would in no way harm it but would, in fact, improve it—to realize that political pressure, not persuasion or common sense, has come to rule the consideration of this measure.
...[disputing the constitutionality of the bill as written and claiming it is a power grab]...
My basic objection to this measure is, therefore, constitutional. But in addition, I would like to point out to my colleagues in the Senate and to the people of America, regardless of their race, color or creed, the implications involved in the enforcement of regulatory legislation of this sort.
To give genuine effect to the prohibitions of this bill will require the creation of a Federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an “informer” psychology in great areas of our national life —neighbors spying on neighbors, worker spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These the Federal police force and an “informer” psychology, are the hallmarks of the police state and landmarks in the destruction of a free society.
I repeat again: I am unalterably opposed to discrimination of any sort and I believe that though the problem is fundamentally one of the heart, some law can help—but not law that embodies features like these, provisions which fly in the face of the Constitution and which require for their effective execution the creation of a police state. And so, because I am unalterably opposed to any threats to our great system of government and the loss of our God‐given liberties, I shall vote “no” on this bill.
And that was the end of Goldwater's future aspirations, the end of mistake theory as strong politics, and the end of Libertarianism in America outside of conservative conclaves.
Four years later, both MLK and RFK, the Black and the white faces of civil rights, were slain three months apart.
I have never known an America without conflict theory as strong politics, except in the time before I knew anything about politics. Upon reviewing how greatness was slaughtered, the inner cities became drug-and-gun ghettos, and reason was slain, I join with my generation in looking on in observance of utter loss... then turning away and uttering a coping "Whatever."