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Keith Knutson: King’s lessons remain relevant today

2013-01-20T00:30:00Z Keith Knutson: King’s lessons remain relevant todayBy Keith Knutson | La Crosse La Crosse Tribune
January 20, 2013 12:30 am  • 

On Monday, our nation will celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our community’s celebration will be held at 7 p.m. in Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center Main Theater. Everyone is welcome, as we invigorate our community spirit through music and fellowship.

Andre Johnson from the Memphis Theological Seminary will deliver the evening’s keynote address — “From a Dream to a Mountain Top and Beyond: Martin Luther King Jr. and the African American Prophetic Tradition.”

Johnson has researched and written about Henry McNeal Turner, who was an author himself, a civil rights activist, 12th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first black man to hold the position of chaplain in the U.S. Army.

For 12 years, Turner served as chancellor of Morris Brown University in Atlanta, but when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1866 unconstitutional, he grew increasingly disillusioned by the racial discrimination blacks encountered in the United States.

Later in life, Turner advocated emigration to Africa as black Americans’ best hope for equality.

King’s leadership during the civil rights movement brought white Americans to accept black Americans as equal citizens in society. When King was murdered in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968, he wasn’t there to visit the Theological Seminary where Johnson teaches. Rather King was there to support workers’ demands for human dignity and fair compensation.

King was inspired to do this by the advocacy for the oppressed that imbues our Christian tradition, beginning, of course, with Jesus.

Viterbo University’s inspiration comes from St. Francis of Assisi’s dedication to living a life emulating the Christian founder. King rose to prominence in the pulpit of southern churches, often eulogizing slain civil rights advocates. Along with his knowledge of the great Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi, who led the successful effort to end British colonial domination of his own society, King led a nonviolent movement that ended the brutal racial repression in our society.

This year’s celebration is steeped in historical commemoration: We mark the 50th anniversary of King’s “I have a Dream” speech, and we’re also marking the 150th anniversary of President’s Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

And on the very day we celebrate King’s legacy, our republic inaugurates our first African American president for the second time. The record turnout of minorities in both 2008 and 2012 is a testimonial to one of the civil rights movement’s greatest achievements — the 1965 Voting Rights Act that secured ballot access for all Americans. These minorities could then join a larger coalition to elect the candidate of their choice.

Today there are attempts to limit ballot access in our country through voter ID laws and more restrictive registration requirements. These restrictions are intended to address voter fraud that has been shown to be practically non-existent. It is estimated that these restrictions would have prevented as many as 5 million citizens from voting on Nov 6.

On four occasions since 1965, Congress has reauthorized the Voting Rights Act — most recently in 2006 when the Senate voted unanimously, the House provided overwhelming support and  President George W. Bush signed it into law.

Turner experienced judicial fiat, ending aspirations for equality before the law in the 19th century. That judicial interference helped legalize the brutal system of segregation that King and his followers so heroically confronted in a nonviolent protest movement.

Yet today, voter access continues to be a debatable subject. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court soon will consider a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Some argue it’s outdated and unneeded in today’s society. I think we have made significant progress in racial equality and guaranteeing ballot access to all our citizens.

Let us hope the current Supreme Court will reaffirm King’s legacy. I hope many of you will attend the celebration honoring this great leader.

Keith Knutson is an associate professor in the history department at Viterbo University.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. GrandpaS
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    GrandpaS - January 21, 2013 8:04 pm
    Wow. You do not absorb points very well. Did you notice I said he will not be appointed to sainthood? That's my way of saying, yes, he had flaws. And no, I do not approve of married men - or singel ones, for that matter - using hookers. As long as you're such a moral beacon, you must remember the words of Christ when a bunch of people were going to stone a prostitute to death: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." If you are without sin, Laxtea, go ahead and throw the first stone. If you profess to be a Christian, and I don't know if you do or not, then you (like every other human on the planet) have your own set of character flaws, including being a self-appointed judge. As in, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."
  2. Buggs Raplin
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    Buggs Raplin - January 21, 2013 10:13 am
    It appears King did beat a woman the night before he died, according to Abernathy's book. The woman had previously had an affair with him. She went to his motel room and felt correctly that King was 'cheating' on her with another woman. He pushed or knocked her across the room. She then fought back and the two of them got into a real fight with King the winner.
  3. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 21, 2013 8:46 am
    King's buddy Rev. Ralph Abernathy, in his book, "And the Wall Came Tumbling Down", admitted King spent his last night in the motel having an immoral liaison with three women and then beat one of the women in the morning before he was shot.
  4. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 21, 2013 8:40 am
    Stand up for what? When the civil rights act was signed this was all over with. But in the wake of it a wave of do-gooder legislation was passed such that if you have more pigment in your skin educational performance levels have been lowered, business opportunities abound, and free money is given. All against the supposed beliefs of King.
  5. Buggs Raplin
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    Buggs Raplin - January 21, 2013 7:58 am
    Greg, you stated that King beat prostitutes the night before he died. What is your specific source for that assertion?
  6. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 21, 2013 7:14 am
    I forgot, to you democ-rats beating prostitutes, cheating on your spouse and plagiarizing are badges of honor.
  7. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 21, 2013 7:13 am
    So by your argument then participating in prostitution while being married is a GOOD thing since he allegedly hired hookers of the same color? That is telling about the content of your character.

    Many FBI sources attest King had an ample reputation as a philanderer and abuser of women. The FBI ran surveillance on King attempting to gather data on his Communist connections. While they did surveill his attendance at Communist meetings, most of the surveillance records show an extreme preoccupation after hours with illicit sex.
  8. Anonangel
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    Anonangel - January 21, 2013 2:10 am
    Where are our Dr.Kings at ? We need someone to rise up, and soon. Millions of people here and we cant get 1 person to stand up?
  9. NavyVet
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    NavyVet - January 20, 2013 11:13 pm
    good post grandpaS could not agree more
  10. allcav
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    allcav - January 20, 2013 8:44 pm
    Hey, I'm just happy that Knutson doesn't get press more often. Only unhappy when he wastes space on the op-ed page, though most of it's usually wasted anyway.
  11. GrandpaS
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    GrandpaS - January 20, 2013 8:14 pm
    LAXTEA: I Googled "King Beats Prostiutes." There are two good websites to get the true story. You can go to either the snopes.com website or the Urban Legends web site. For instance, he was baptized "Michael," but his father legally changed both his own name and Dr. King's to "Martin" when King was 5 years old. Apparently King did hire prostitutes, but not white ones, and he never beat them. The Legends site will also give you the complete story about how he wrote his thesis and the "I have a dream" speech. I don't think MLK will get nominated for sainthood, and I'll give you that, but his devotion to the cause of helping all Americans be equal cannot be denied. I lived through it, I watched it on the news over and over. When it came to human rights, the man was for real. And that's not a "typical liberal" view. It's an American's view. In fact, it's millions of Americans' view.
  12. GrandpaS
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    GrandpaS - January 20, 2013 7:56 pm
    Have you ever done anything, Laxtea, that even comes close to what Dr. King accomplished? And where did you get the story about "beating the prostitutes?" Dr. King was one of the great heroes of the 20th century. Period. 500 of your anti-everything posts wouldn't even touch what he accomplished in any given week.
  13. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 20, 2013 2:15 pm
    Was he great and courageous when he beat prostitutes the night before he was shot? How about when he plagiarized his speeches and doctoral thesis? We usually have other words to describe people that do these things when they aren't part of this narrative.
  14. Buggs Raplin
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    Buggs Raplin - January 20, 2013 11:18 am
    No mention of King's anti-Vietnam speech where he accurately call the US government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Not much has changed since he made that speech in April 1967. We've had a series of warlord presidents, some much worse than the others. Ford and Carter have the least amount of blood on their hands. LBJ, Nixon, Clinton and the Bushes the most. Obama is somewhere in the middle at this point in history. King was a great man, a courageous man. He knew the danger he was in, but continued fighting for peace and justice. Yes, he was guilty of womanizing and plagiarism, but I really could give a sheet about that.
  15. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 20, 2013 9:00 am
    Mr Knutson, do you always celebrate plagiarized speeches? King plagiarized the "I have a dream" speech just like most of his doctoral thesis work.
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