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A True American Hero

by Jerry Bader

While on vacation this past week I did manage to seem coverage of the weekend events marking the upcoming 50th anniversary on the March to Washington on August 28th, 1963 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream speech." Predictably, the anniversary is prompting vigorous debate about the state of race relations in America. Many believe little has changed since 1963 and conservatives believe Dr. King's dream has been realized but the black community isn't taking full advantage of it.

The liberal perspective is ridiculously wrong and the conservative viewpoint is off the mark as well. And I could spend this blog post addressing a debate I've addressed many times before. But I won't. I will say instead that August 28th, 1963 was one of the greatest moments in American history, King's speech was the greatest of the 20th century and Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. was a true American hero. I consider all of these to be self-evident but I write them here because conservatives are too often accused of not believing them And if you don't believe them, you are simply wrong.

New York Times columnist Russ Douthat addresses the "where are we really in race relations" debate in this piece.  As I said, I won't revisit that debate, but Douthat does a good job in chronicling the world the American black faced in 1963. Simply put, Dr. King was victorious in a war on terror, even though he ultimately would be one of its victims. The black American had made virtually no progress in civil rights since 1865. King's long slow march, and you can take that both literally and figuratively, was a war he fought with the weapon of peace against weapons of terror and violence and, of course, hatred. Churches burned, children died, men were hanged and shot. Through it all King preached dignity and peace. And the role religious faith played in the Civil Rights Movement is too often forgotten.

Yes, I think it's unfortunate the direction the modern civil rights movement has taken and yes I believe even King's own children have been led astray. But that should not take away from the fact that King was the leader of a movement that freed an oppressed people. No, they were not as free as white Americans then, and yes, today they are. That's not to say racism has been vanquished; it never will, not from any race. But a race of people was being denied the same opportunity as whites simply because of the color of their skin. Jim Crow was America's Apartheid and King led the movement that ended it.

Yes, the advent of television played a huge role. Northern Americans couldn't believe the atrocities the unblinking eye of the television camera was showing them. And it changed hearts and minds. But those television moments came because King pushed until it gave. Over the years I've spoken to too many conservatives who want to point to King as a leader with feet of clay(as if most aren't) and challenge his morals and his true motives. Not only does this play into the conservative stereotype on race it is, again, simply wrong. Whatever King's personal failings, his leadership freed a people that were supposedly freed a century earlier.

I taught public speaking at the college level for years and I played King's "Dream" speech every semester. And it moved me every time.The debate over why the black community continues to be stunted economically will rage on, as will the debate over race relations in general. But there should be no debate that August 28th, 1963 was a watershed moment in American history. And there should be no debate that Dr. King is a true American Hero. If you'e never watched the speech, I strongly urge you to do so now.