Tag Archives: MLK Jr.

Bill Cosby: He’s no Mandela, MLK Jr. or Gandhi

I don’t usually comment on convicted criminals, but I cannot let this issue pass without offering a brief response.

Bill Cosby, the formerly revered comedian and actor, is now a convicted sexual assailant. A jury convicted him of sexually assaulting a woman. He’s now spending three to 10 years in prison.

But now he says he doesn’t feel remorse because he is a “political prisoner,” in the mold of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

No, he isn’t.

Hmm. Mandela was held on Robben Island for 27 years because he protested apartheid in South Africa; Dr. King was held in jail because he opposed oppression of African-Americans in the United States; Gandhi was imprisoned because he wanted independence for India.

Yep, those great men were political prisoners.

Bill Cosby is in the slammer because he was convicted of sexual assault. There is absolutely zero moral equivalence between what he did and why the men to whom he compares himself were denied their freedom.

Be quiet, Mr. Cosby, and do your time.

‘I Have a Dream’ took off when Dr. King ad-libbed

Banks, schools and other government buildings closed today as the nation commemorated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The great man’s impact on our nation during his brief life of just 39 years on Earth is well-known and thoroughly chronicled. I won’t slog through his titanic legacy of his non-violent quest for civil rights for all of humanity.

The video I have attached to this blog post is of his greatest speech, which he delivered in August 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Two astonishing aspects of that speech are worth noting today.

One is that Dr. King was 34 years of age when he electrified the nation with his remarks overlooking the Washington Mall.

Thirty-four!

The tenderness of the great man’s age is astonishing. I am trying to grasp how someone so young could keep his composure in front of such a gigantic gathering of listeners.

Now for the cool part of that speech.

The aspect of Dr. King’s remarks we all quote today was not prepared. He didn’t read them from a sheet of paper with text on it.

The “I Have a Dream” portion of the oratory was delivered extemporaneously. He ad-libbed it!

It’s been reported over the years that the late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson exhorted Dr. King from the podium by urging him to “tell them about the dream, Martin.”

So . . . he did.

The rest, as they say, is history — and what a history he wrote!

1968: It ended with profound discovery

Those of us of a certain age and older remember 1968.

As we were living through it many of us wondered if we could survive, literally, and wondered if the nation could endure the tumult that tore at its soul.

The year began with that terrible Tet Offensive in Vietnam, where we were fighting a war that killed thousands of American service personnel that year. Two iconic figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, died at the hands of assassins. The Democratic Party nominated a presidential candidate while thousands of people rioted in the streets outside.

Then in December of that terrible year, three men launched from Earth toward the moon, produced the image I have posted on this blog. They read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon’s surface.

These men — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders — reminded us of the fragility of our existence and produced a never-before-seen image of our “good Earth,” as Apollo astronaut mission commander Borman described it in his Christmas message back home.

The Apollo 8 moon mission was more than just a competitive event between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Kennedy in 1961 had declared that we should “send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth” before the end of the 1960s. We would accomplish that mission in 1969, beating the Soviets in that race to the moon.

Before that, though, we had to send a space ship to the moon to orbit it and to return. Little could we have foreseen the symbolism embodied in that mission at the end of a terrible, tumultuous year.

It could not have ended more perfectly than it did just before Christmas 1968. It could not have been a more apt remedy to help restore some semblance of hope in the face of the mayhem that gripped the nation and the world.

The mission was, shall we say, one for the ages.

Those three men saw fit to read from the Holy Bible about God’s creation of the universe. The words from Genesis served to remind us that the Almighty was looking after us.

The year began and progressed through storm after storm.It ended with the image flashed around the world for the first time ever of Earth rising in the black sky all by itself.

It is our home. Turmoil and all.

Happy 93rd birthday, RFK

Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 93 today.

The late U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York died 50 years ago at the hands of an assassin who shot him in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen after Bobby Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Party presidential primary.

He was 42 years of age when he died.

I have grieved ever since over that loss.

RFK was my first political hero, although I don’t like using the h-word when talking about politicians. They aren’t heroic figures any more than athletes are heroes.

I did admire him greatly.

But to think on this day that a young, ambitious politician died at an age that is younger than the younger of my two sons fills me with an odd sense of my own mortality.

We need a politician like RFK among us today. We are a nation divided by race, by social status, by partisan politics. Bobby Kennedy sought to elevate us above the divisions that ravaged the nation when he sought the presidency in 1968, that most turbulent of years.

It was Bobby who climbed aboard that flatbed truck in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 and informed the crowd of mostly black supporters that “Martin Luther King was shot and killed.” The crowd gasped in horror. RFK then went on to call for “love” and “compassion for one another.”

As other major U.S. cities erupted in violence that night, Indianapolis remained calm.

I don’t know whether Robert Francis Kennedy would have attained the highest office in America had death not taken him that night. My heart tells me there was a path to the Democratic nomination and to election. But … that must remain for others’ speculation.

The nation lost a champion for humanity five decades ago.

Today, though, I want to salute the fellow who entered this world 93 years ago today and embarked on a too-brief journey in a quest to heal the wounds that harmed us.

Happy birthday, Bobby. Many millions of us still miss you.

Election Day deserves to be a national holiday

We’re going to vote in a few days for all the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the U.S. Senate. Each state will have elections, too, to select governors, assorted statewide officeholders, on down to the legislative and county level.

I’ve kicked this idea around in my noggin, but I now believe we need to make Election Day a national holiday. Give our citizens the day off from work. Allow them to spend the day doing whatever they do on their days off, but also allow them to perform our society’s most essential form of political expression.

I don’t believe we need to move Election Day; it should remain on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I don’t want it moved to the first Monday, creating yet another three-day weekend for citizens to spend out of town and enticing them to stay away on Monday, when they should be voting.

Keeping it on Tuesday sandwiches Election Day between two working/school days. It helps ensure citizens are at home for this big event.

We bemoan the lack of voter turnout. Americans who don’t vote can’t get away for a number of reasons. Their jobs comprise part of the rationale for non-voting American citizens. “My job keeps me from going to the polls,” they might say. A national holiday fixes that problem. Hey, we have declared national holidays to honor our presidents, Christopher Columbus, our veterans, those who have died in battle, the creation of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., working men and women. These all are noble causes and worthy of honor.

Why isn’t the election of our national, state and local leaders worthy as well?

I believe it is. We should set that day aside every two years — for the midterm and for the presidential elections — to give Americans plenty of time during the day to perform this simple, but essential task of citizenship.

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

MLK Jr. changed so much in so little time

Martin Luther King Jr. walked this Earth for only 39 years.

Then it ended. It was 50 years ago. A single rifle shot struck down the great man.

We are going to see a lot of tributes to Dr. King in the next day or two … or maybe beyond as the nation reignites its grief over this monumental loss.

I’ll watch them and wonder: How in the name of soaring rhetoric does someone so young speak with such wisdom? Dr. King did that. He spoke to all Americans on behalf of “my people.” He told us about that dream he had, of how “little black children” would one day walk with “little white children,” how his own children would be judged only by the “content of their character.”

Do you remember the August 1963 speech, his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered to hundreds of thousands of people on the Washington, D.C. Mall? He was less than five years away from his own death. He also was just 34 years of age when he stirred our souls.

He led a non-violent movement. He preached “civil disobedience” in the strictest definition of the term. Those who marched with him paid heavy prices in blood, sadly. Dr. King himself spent time in jail, where he penned even more words of wisdom that will live for the ages.

I want to add a disturbing note to this tribute to Dr. King, and it has next to nothing to do with the great man himself.

It is that the individual who changed history with a rifle shot at that Memphis, Tenn., motel balcony was just another in a big crowd of losers. James Earl Ray would die in prison. The hateful, spiteful individual sought notoriety. Damn, he got it!

The 50-year commemorations no doubt are going to wonder: What if Martin Luther King Jr. had lived? Would we be a different nation today? I am not smart or prescient enough to know with certainty, but I believe Dr. King could have shaped the national discussion toward achieving “a more perfect Union.”

The ultimate tragedy — beyond the obvious grief that came to one man’s family and the nation he sought to inspire — is that we cannot know the path we would have taken had Dr. King been allowed more than just 39 years.

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

Now, a good word for Teleprompters

I stand before you in defense of Teleprompters.

They are a commonly used device. Politicians use them all the time. They’ve been in use for decades. Speechwriters prepare the text that pols deliver and put them on these devices. Then the pol reads the remarks from a screen at eye level, which is meant to give the audience the illusion of extemporaneous speech.

It ain’t.

Donald J. Trump is going to read a speech tonight. He’ll talk about his strategy in Afghanistan and perhaps reveal how he intends to fight the 16-year-long Afghan War. I’ve heard the president’s critics say all day about how he’s going to read a speech written by someone else. These critics intend to diminish the words the president will say.

C’mon, folks.

We heard much of the same sort of criticism leveled at Barack Obama when he was president. His critics would demean his statements that he would read from a Teleprompter. “He gives a good speech,” they say, “but he doesn’t mean it. He’s speaking someone else’s words.”

Every single president dating back to, oh, Dwight Eisenhower have read speeches from Teleprompters; Ike was the first president to use the device to deliver a State of the Union speech. Some are more graceful using the device than others. Donald Trump clearly needs practice using the Teleprompter. When you watch him stand in front of the Teleprompter, you end up anticipating when he’s going to launch into one of those nonsensical, unscripted riffs.

His reading of the text often sounds painful; some folks have described his Teleprompter performances as sounding as if he is being held hostage.

Have you ever watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? Of course you have. Dr. King started reading the prepared text; I believe he had a Teleprompter. His prepared remarks were fine. Then he veered into the ad-lib portion that has become legendary. “I have a dream,” he would repeat. He tossed out the prepared remarks and finished with “Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!”

So, let’s stop obsessing over whether the president uses a Teleprompter. Of course he does! As he should.

MLK Jr.’s greatest speech still resonates

I thought I’d share this video shot in August 1963.

You see, today Americans are celebrating the birth of the man who gave this speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke of his “dream” of equality and a day when a “man’s character” mattered more than the “color of his skin.”

Dr. King would die a violent death less than five years later. Today, though, we mark his birth and we salute the man who led a movement to bring equal rights for all Americans. He fought peacefully for civil rights and for voting rights.

I should add that somewhere on the podium where Dr. King delivered the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a young man named John Lewis.

This young man would go on to become a member of Congress. On that day, he was the youngest among King’s closest lieutenants to stand with him that sweltering day in the nation’s capital. Rep. Lewis has been in the news of late, as Donald J. Trump said he was “all talk … no action.” Well, the president-elect is quite wrong about that.

I also want to point out that the highlight of this stirring speech wasn’t written. Dr. King improvised the “I have a dream … ” riff that has become a legendary chapter in the annals of American oratory.

Enjoy … and happy birthday, Dr. King.