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Martin Luther King: the Incarnation of a Universal Conscience

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-01-22

On Monday, January 17th, many Americans in Okinawa, back in the United States, and all over the world, were happy to take a day off to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, the only other holiday in the USA besides Christmas Day that is dedicated to an individual. Some Americans celebrated the man’s legacy as an amalgam of American ideals. However, Dr. King’s ideals can no longer be confined within the borders of the United States. In this 21st Century Age of Globalization, Martin Luther King does not belong to America alone. He belongs to the Universe. His heritage is for all of us: from Arkansas to Africa; from California to Cameroon; from Arizona to Asia; from Connecticut to Cuba; from Illinois to Iraq; from Idaho to Iran; from Texas to Turkey; from Oklahoma to... Okinawa.

Several breakfast and luncheon occasions were held - and are still being held - to mark the holiday. At the US Army’s Torii Station, Col. Robert McNeil personally hosted a luncheon on Friday, January 14th at the Coral Cove during which an Okinawan lady, Setsuko Inafuku, who works as a tour guide with Schilling Information, Tickets and Tours on kadena Air Base, was the main speaker. She spoke of the war experience in Okinawa, and clearly made a relation between the lives of some Japanese groups here and Martin Luther King’s dreams.

I personally had the opportunity to be invited to Camp Shields last Thursday, January 13th as guest speaker during their Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast. I offered them an international perspective of the importance of the slain minister’s doctrine of non-violent militancy for just causes. I told my audience that, as an African reporter with the Voice of America radio, the most significant event I covered in the United States was the Million Man March organized in Washington, DC by Minister Louis Farrakhan, on the same grounds where Martin Luther King once made his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

Here are a few points to illustrate my interest - as an African and citizen of the world - in Dr. King’s legacy:

- For nearly 500 years, Africans and their African American brothers and sisters were torn apart by unfortunate events. Slavery and slave trade by European powers broke the links between Africans in the New World - the Americas - and Africans on the Mother Continent. The popularity of a figure like Martin Luther King, for many Africans, is a sign that, out of something historically bad and sad may emerge a brighter future for all Black men and women.

- The hot moments of the civil rights movements in America - the 50s and 60s - coincided with, and actually accelerated the movements for independence in Africa. Many future African leaders of the time heard of the struggle of Martin Luther and Malcolm X in the United States. Some of them emulated the American civil rights leaders, considering them as role models, and mobilized their people to fight against the European colonial masters for total political and economic freedom. That has still not been achieved, though we are now in the Third Millennium, in the same way that the civil rights movement in America has done a lot, but not yet won the final battle against racial intolerance.

- The whole issue of Black Power movements in America spurred some African intellectuals to develop a movement known as “Negritude”, which insisted on the reintroduction of what they considered as Negro or black pride.

- African American lobbies and their political connections had enormous impact on the antiapartheid movement in the USA that finally led to a boycott of South Africa till Nelson Mandela was free and democracy introduced in that country.

Thanks to the enormous work done on our collective conscience by Dr. King, equal human rights is now a matter of concern for everyone. It is no longer just about the so-called Negroes in America. It is not just about racial or ethnic minorities in America. We’re no longer talking just about the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world - the so-called wretched of the earth. It’s about all of us.

However, we must reflect on the following questions:

- Would Martin Luther King, like Jesse Jackson did, have participated in the Million Man March organized by a “controversial” black Nation of Islam leader, that finally brought more people to the Mall than his own March on Washington?

- What would have been Dr. King’s reaction in 1996 when after his long “American Journey”, America’s most popular personality at the moment, General Colin Powell, turned down the opportunity to perhaps become the first Black President of the United States?

- What would he have done or said during the Rodney King drama and the O.J. Simpson trial?

- What would he have told his audience, his congregation, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the United States, when the whole world saw the subtle introduction of a new form of dictatorship - that of an extra-Judiciary Independent Council, that could invade anyone’s private life at any moment and expose it on the Internet for the whole world to read, while certain religious leaders usurped the place of God Almighty and called one man’s personal failures - to which he admitted - unforgivable and unforgettable?

- What would he have said about the ongoing political game in the United States over the life of a six-year old boy, Elian Gonzalez, who saw his mother die at sea, and now cannot even be consoled by his living and loving father because leaders of the two nations still don’t like each other?

- What would have been his position on the unending sanctions on “enemy state” Iraq, with 3000 years of civilization, which also happens to be the only country in the Arab world with lay and Christian officials serving in government; in short, the most “western” of the Middle East Arab nations?

- What would Dr. King say today, about the status of Okinawa and the rights of its people in the eyes of the Government of Japan and the US Department of Defense?

- What would be his position on the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans? What would he have said about the plight of the Moslem minority suffering under ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and more recently, in Kossovo?

- What would he say about what Vice President Gore qualified recently at the United Nations Security Council as the latest threat to world security, in the form of an elusive disease known as AIDS - which is allegedly killing more Blacks than any other racial group on earth?

There are many other questions we may want to ask ourselves, in the light of what we individually retain from Martin Luther King’s ministry. I believe that his spirit is still alive, for his words rhyme with the best ideals spelled out in such historical documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and - of course, the most everlasting document of all - the Holy Bible, which was his main source of inspiration.

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