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Wednesday 28 August 2013

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

[Update at end of post]

In the UK, there were, before the passage of the Race Relations Act, those in business who operated a colour bar: publicans, hoteliers, landlords were all guilty of that practice. Those from racial minorities suffered terrible prejudice. But we had nothing on the scale of the southern states of the USA, where segregation was enforced by law, and often backed up by the lynch mob.
It was into this arena that Martin Luther King Jr led the struggle for civil rights – for all citizens. It was a struggle that would ultimately cost him his life. And that struggle led him to address a crowd of hundreds of thousands before the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC fifty years ago today. Much has changed since then: the USA now has its first African-American President. But not everything.

Much of the vitriol spewed out by the right at Barack Obama – accusing him of being a communist, not born in the USA, a covert Muslim – is undoubtedly code for his not being white. So, while Obama may have carried states such as Florida and Virginia twice, many in the South are still hostile and resentful so many years after JFK and Lyndon Johnson swept away the baggage of segregation.

So how is the UK’s “free and fearless” media commemorating the half-century since Dr King delivered his speech? There is the cheap and nasty, exemplified by the Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column, nowadays the domain of Peter McKay, otherwise known as The World’s Worst Columnist, where the opportunity is taken to have a cheap snark at the King Estate. Stay classy, McHackey.

The BBC does rather better, with not just a news item, but also the full text of the King speech, which I would commend to anyone who is not familiar with it. And even the Maily Telegraph has managed a thoughtful piece from Raf Sanchez, with a number of quotes from Barack Obama about the prejudice he experienced 35 years ago – well after the civil rights legislation was enacted.

And that’s a whole lot better than the joke that is the Express, where the dwindling retinue of hacks is reduced to combining arthritis cures with yet more milking of the latest Diana story. Fortunately the Mirror has restored some credibility to the tabloid cause by making the King speech one of its lead items, and providing an online version for its readers to view and hear.

That, after all, is the best and most immediate way to understand the power of Dr King’s oratory, the way in which he summed up the plight of African-Americans fifty years ago, and the vision which he spelt out with great clarity and passion. Everyone should hear that speech: it is one of the defining moments not just of American history, but of our own, too.

[UPDATE 1625 hours: even with an occasion as the 50th anniversary of Dr King's speech, there has to be a smartarse who wants to dredge up a counter argument to impress those who get uneasy at the sight of darker-skinned people not giving sufficient deference to those of Caucasian appearance, and a superbly wrong-headed example has come from Damian Thompson, clueless pundit of no fixed hair appointment, at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs.

Dames has, perhaps wisely, knowing the kinds of people who drift around the Tel blogs comments sewer, not allowed comments on his effort, where he tells that Dr King may have borrowed some of the substance of his doctoral thesis - like goodness knows how many others. Then there is an interval of nudge-nudgery where he asserts that King also womanised. But when he sells the pass is at the very end of his post.

"If he'd been a famous white Republican, his reputation would have been comprehensively trashed by historians and the media" protests Dames, to which I call bullshit. Right-wingers, no matter what faults they possessed, are generally deified in death - look at Ayn Rand, an undeserving recipient of accolade if ever there was one. And, while we're on those who were politically active during the 1960s, what about Ronald Reagan? There's another who can do no wrong in death.

Thompson and his pals at Tel blogs may not be paranoid, not that the rotten lefties are coming to get them of course]

1 comment:

Neil said...

It was covered very well on the Jeremy Whine Show - a first for this particular programme. He interviewed a bloke who was around the southern states of America at the time and gave first-hand witness accounts of the racism he saw. He almost went to watch the speech but went to Europe instead. Apparently he almost didn't do the 'Dream' schtick but was urged to by a woman standing alongside him. Only goes to prove that behind every good speech there's a woman nagging.