Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In Memoriam

As Digby reports, the conservative complaints about the "politicization" of Coretta Scott King's funeral have already begun.

Kate O'Beirne, a shrill harpy whose publishing record suggests she has no business lecturing anyone about civility, made an appearance on "Hardball" today to clutch her hanky and lecture the King family about how they should celebrate their mother's life. I'm sure the Kings would love to get advice from a National Review contributor like Kate O'Beirne. After all, back when Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King were risking their lives to advance the cause of civil rights in the South, it was the National Review that had the courage to come out and ask:
whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes--the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.
Clearly, the National Review has been on the Kings' side for fifty years, and the family should heed their words now.

Anyway, as we all learned during the Paul Wellstone funeral, conservatives love to lecture liberals on how our heroes (and their opponents) should be remembered. Personally, I think it makes sense when honoring someone who sacrificed all their life for a political cause to mention that cause. (And I seem to remember maybe one or two references to the nuts and bolts of the Reagan Revolution during the weeklong national mourning of Ronald Reagan.)

Given the GOP playbook, I'm sure we're going to hear more along these lines in the coming days. Apparently, this comment is going to get a lot of play:
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., drew a roaring standing ovation when he said: “For war, billions more, but no more for the poor” — a takeoff on a line from a Stevie Wonder song. The comment drew head shakes from Bush and his father as they sat behind the pulpit.
All Americans who don't get their history from Bill O'Reilly will remember that Martin Luther King Jr. offered virtually the same criticism of the Vietnam War, noting that the cost of America's overseas adventure was undercutting the Great Society programs meant to help the poor.

While MLK didn't take this stance until 1967, his wife had already taken a public stance against the war in 1965 and had been pushing him to do likewise for years. After his death, she became even more outspoken in her opposition to the war. (The photo here, incidentally, comes from a speech she gave at an antiwar rally in 1970.)

Given her passionate involvement in the antiwar politics of the Vietnam era, it's not surprising that Coretta Scott King continued her activism in our own time. Although you won't hear it mentioned much in the news, she spoke out early and often against the war in Iraq:
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mrs. King celebrated the anniversary of birth of her late husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by recalling that the slain civil rights leader had been outspoken in his opposition to unnecessary and unwise wars.

"We commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. as a great champion of peace who warned us that war was a poor chisel for carving out a peaceful tomorrow. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. Martin said, 'True peace is not just the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice,'" Mrs. King told a crowd that had gathered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. She continued, "May his challenge and his example guide and inspire us to seek peaceful alternatives to a war with Iraq and military conflict in the Middle East."
Coretta Scott King devoted her life to taking strong, principled stands against what she regarded as unncessary and costly wars -- first Vietnam and, later, Iraq. Through her own speeches and the work of the King Center, she's been a leading figure in the peace movement for the past forty years. And importantly, she framed her continued involvement in antiwar activism as a way to honor and remember her husband's legacy. Why shouldn't her family and friends be allowed to do the same for her memory?

President Bush invoked the name of Coretta Scott King at the start of his highly political State of the Union address, calling her "a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream." At her memorial service, however, he seemed put off that anyone would dare provide details of her courageous activism, or remind us what ideals she and her husband considered worth fighting and dying for.

If we as a nation are going to memorialize Coretta Scott King, let's be sure to get the memory right.

Update: If you want more evidence of how the eulogies to CSK were exactly the kind of thing the Kings would have done, check out this excellent compilation of politically charged comments made by MLK at several funerals of civil rights activists and similar comments made by eulogists at his own funeral.


InanimateCarbonRod said...

Nice post. I didn't know squat about Coretta except she was the wife of a great man and together they couldn't raise one child that was worth a damn. Now I feel she deserves some of the nonstop coverage she has received.

Otto Man said...

Thanks. You're still right about the kids, by the way. They're more concerned with the licensing rights to their father's speeches than they are with continuing his public ministry.

S.W. Anderson said...

I agree, O.M. That's a fine post. I think the lady would be pleased.

The carping about political themes being sounded at the memorial come off as just so much more hypocrisy from Bush surrogates. Blowhard Joe Scarborough and turbo twit Tucker Carlson were harrumphing and tut-tutting about it just a couple of minutes ago.

From what I've learned about Bush, I'm quite sure he would rather have been in any of 10,000 other places. There's a pretty good indication of why he attended anyway in the recent personal appearances of RNC chairman Ken Mehlman — wherever African American and Hispanic crowds gather.

Political motives? You better believe it.

Malibu Stacy said...

Excellent post Otto Man, and a nice tribute.

The reaction from the right completely misses the point of everything the Kings tried to do.

They make me sad.

Thrillhous said...

Hell yeah, OM. Nicely done.

Studiodave said...

OM, you are generally a strong writer, but I place this at the top. Great work.

Id love to hear your 2 cents on the children and how best to honor MLK / Mrs. MLK's legacy.

Otto Man said...

Thanks for the kind words, folks.

As far as the children go, I think they're simply suffering from the same problems that afflict all children of famous leaders (see Jenna and Not Jenna for exhibits A and B, and the Kennedy clan for the rest). They're not drunken idiots like those examples, but they also seem to be devoid of their parents' considerable talents too.

In their defense, when MLK died he didn't leave much money behind. That's why they're concerned with copyrights to his speeches, etc. But there just doesn't seem to be any real commitment to civil rights or other causes there. It's MLK Inc.

As far as how to honor the Kings memory, I think the speeches at the funeral service were exactly the right way to go. These people were all about speaking truth to power and tweaking the nation's conscience, and the speeches given at CSK's funeral service were just what she would've wanted.

From here on out, the best way to honor them would be to work hard for progressive causes -- especially the anti-poverty and anti-war movements, which were near and dear to them both.

Mr Furious said...

John Cole was fool enough to open up this can of worms and got roundly smacked around by many of his readers. Some highlights:

"Political speeches at a funeral for a very political lady. And you are shocked?"
"Yeah, how DARE people speak about poverty, war, and racism at Mrs. King’s funeral? It’s not as if Mrs. King or her husband cared about those things…"
"Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. were activist. They were stridently anti-war. They fought for years for equality among races and spoke out against poverty and injustice. This was a funeral to celebrate Coretta Scott King’s life, what her life meant and what she fought for. Would it have been appropriate for them to simply say she was a great woman, a great mother and that’s it?

On top of all of this, Bush wasn’t even planning to attend the funeral. He was scheduled to speak in New Hampshire yesterday and was planning to send his father in his stead. When he found out the Carters and the Clintons were going, he changed his plans. Coretta’s friends and family were supposed to change their words honoring her because someone she didn’t agree with was going to attend?"
"This is the closest our President has ever come to an uncensored, unscripted audience. Perhaps our dear leader could learn that even when black people aren’t drowning in New Orleans, they’re actually worthy of our attention."


"Um, maybe if the president gave his critics a little face time, like an ordinary politician, they wouldn’t have to tee off on him at a funeral."

Cole asks: "Would it be appropriate, were you attending a ceremony, for the minister to stand up, point at you, and tell everyone in attendance that the deceased hated the way you run your restaurant?"

"This is the stupidest fucking analogy I think I’ve ever heard. If the deceased had spent his/her entire life organizing rallies protesting the way I ran my restaurant, if the deceased had dedicated his/her life to fighting me over the way I ran my restaurant, then maybe, just maybe, I would see it coming."
"I don’t have any sympathy for George Bush. It is quite clear to me that he is afraid to face an audience that isn’t full of brain stem Republicans. If he didn’t want to be critisized he should have sent a card instead of going to the funeral of a political activist who vehemently opposed his policies.

Fair warning to George Bush: If Dubya attends my funeral all my family and friends have my permission to tell him what an asshole they think he is.

I think you get the idea. Not much to add to that. I laughed out loud many times. I'm sure Cole wishes he could have that one back...

Otto Man said...

Damn, I missed the Cole post. Stupid work.

Thanks for the reposting, Furious.

Otto Man said...

This was a nice comment there, quoting MLK's own words about what he expected of his funeral:

“Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning. If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness.”

Otto Man said...

Another gem:

Maybe next time a prominent activist dies, Congress can go into emergency session to pass legislation barring any political speechifying at the funeral. I’m sure Bush would even be willing to cut short his vacation to sign it.

I mean, they must know better than the family how end-of-life decisions should be made, right?

If the Democrats want to push back on this, this is precisely how it should go. Link it to Schiavo, and the GOP implosion takes care of itself.

Studiodave said...

This is the closest our President has ever come to an uncensored, unscripted audience. Perhaps our dear leader could learn that even when black people aren’t drowning in New Orleans, they’re actually worthy of our attention."

>> funny because its true.

TravisG said...

I'll add my hosannas to the rest, Otto. I hate to re-post something I wrote at my site, but it's the most economical summation I've got:

How dare friends and relatives of Coretta Scott King politicize an event so inherently political that four presidents attended.

My wife (who is absolutely not a Republican sympathizer but likes to get get me all riled up) argued last night that it was perhaps in poor taste to focus so much on Bush, who'd come to honor the deceased. She felt like it was a blind-siding, and somewhat unfair. I argued, as did one of Cole's readers, that if he made himself more available to criticism, that he would have earned the respect due his office. In lieu of that, he deserves whatever discomfort he felt up on that stage.

And more, of course.

Otto Man said...

Good point, Travis. If the conservatives think this was an inappropriate forum for criticizing the president, they should point us in the direction of an alternative.

As I see it, it ain't there.

Otto Man said...

That Cole thread is approaching 600 comments and still going strong. Wow.