Obama Can Become the New Martin Luther King

Anyone who 40 years ago would have announced that the United States would have a black president in 2008 would undoubtedly have been called crazy.

It was the time when, especially in the Southern American states, there existed an extremely sharp contrast between white and black. The biggest hurdles were razed because of the struggle of the Rev. Martin Luther King, who was murdered exactly 40 years ago today. Without King’s efforts, Obama would have never come this far.

December 1955. Black Rosa Parks, after a hard day’s work in a department store in Montgomery, Alabama, grabs a bus home. The 43-year old Parks sits in the front of the bus. That is really not allowed because those seats are reserved for white people. Blacks are asked to sit in the back of the bus. When, after a few stops, all seats are taken, a white man asks Parks to stand up so that he can sit in the reserved seat. The woman refuses, is arrested and ends up in prison.

In the same city of Montgomery, two years before the bus incident, a young minister is initiated. It is the then 25-year old Martin Luther King Jr., who since his youth was angry about the bad state of the black population. King leads the subsequent bus boycott, where the black population of Montgomery refuses to set foot in any bus. A year later the buses are made accessible to everyone. That event will not only become the beginning of the improvement of civil rights for the black community, but also the beginning of King’s career as the fighter against racial segregation in America.

“The bus incident is absolutely the breakthrough of King,” says America expert Willem Post of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael. “Even then his greatness was apparent, a greatness that would later make him the hero of black America.” King founds the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and goes forward in the struggle to improve the position of the black population. His speeches invariably draw thousands of people, who come for his message, his oratorical talent, and his charisma. Black and, later, white people too, are taken by the likeable King, who in addition to standing for equality also stands for non-violence and the fight against injustice.

The changes, however, occur very slowly. Eight years after the bus incident, it still doesn’t get any easier for the black community. After his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, where some 250,000 people attended, it was once again apparent how the cards read at that moment. Post: “After his speech, he was received at the White House—which was right around the corner– by President John F. Kennedy. But it all happened a little mysteriously, because they did not want to have the president to be seen in a photo with a black man. Even a progressive president such as Kennedy did not want to offend his white, Conservative voters in the South.

Up to the day of King’s death, in 1958, blacks remained subordinate in the U.S. “The Memphis hotel where he would be assassinated is not my first choice,” knows Post. “He is first refused at a white hotel. Imagine that, the great Martin Luther King is simply not admitted into a white motel.”

The assassination of “the great leader King” brings about a shock wave in America. Inner cities are burnt down; the entire country is the scene of riots and looting. Black America has lost its great helmsman.

According to Post, only now, 40 years later, has someone stood up who could fulfill the same role as King. “It has to be someone who rises above the political parties. There are really not many who can do this well. Obama could have that in him. There have been sports figures that had a similar charisma, but in the political arena such is quite unique.”

In February, Post listened to a speech by Obama in New Hampshire and he sees clear similarities with Rev. King. “He talks about I have a dream, albeit a political dream.” King campaigned against the war in Vietnam, Obama against the one in Iraq.

It is also not strange that Obama is inspired by King’s rhetorical skills. Post: “His speeches have, even after 40 years, not lost any of their power.”

Like King, Obama knows how to win over many whites. With King they were the champions of equal rights and whites who found themselves in less enviable situations. This is also the case with Obama.

Post: “I have seen with my own eyes that the attendance at Obama’s meetings is 90 percent white.”

While it may true that by now all Americans have equal rights, little has changed on the economic front and there is plenty for someone like Obama to gain there.

“It looks like a permanent underclass. Already there are more whites and Latinos who are steadily joining that underclass.”

Martin Luther King now lives on as an “almost Saint.” The fact that he sat in prison more than once, did not harm his reputation. Newsweek disclosed in the 90’s that King is alleged to have spent the very evening before his death in the company of one or more prostitutes. Nevertheless, King’s message remains unaffected years after his death.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply