Venerated Princeton University Professor Cornel West pleaded for Americans to stop the “Santa Claus-ification” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which erroneously compartmentalizes the Civil Rights leader as a sort of a jolly and jelly-soft character, instead of the fearless warrior for righteousness that he was.
“We have to resist the ‘Santa Claus-ification’ of Martin Luther King. I don’t want to sanitize Martin Luther King. I don’t want to deodorize Dr. Martin Luther King. I don’t want to disinfect Dr. Martin Luther King, and we’re not gonna domesticate Dr. King,” a charged-up West thundered behind the pulpit to an excited throng inside the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta during a poignant tribute to King. West added that despite misguided legend, King wasn’t a meek man; he was a divinely-principled man with unflinching courage, who caused seismic quakes in the highest powers of the United States government.
“The FBI said he was the most dangerous man in America, and the FBI said he was the most notorious liar in America,” the keynote speaker said, imploring listeners, which also included hundreds of onlookers who stood outside listening to the procession of dignitaries’ tributes on a jumbo screen, to honor Dr. King’s legacy by coming to others’ aid, particularly in light of the historic catastrophe in Haiti.
“If we want to honor the legacy of Dr. King, then we must begin by learning how to love people. … That’s why people didn’t want to hang with Martin Luther King too long. He wasn’t talking about your career — but what your calling is. He wasn’t interested in talking about all of your degrees and your possessions — but what your depth of love for others is.”
The King tribute was led by Dr. Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s oldest and only surviving sibling, and Elder Bernice King, his youngest daughter, who is a minister and the new president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization that he co-founded four decades ago.
The ceremony was punctuated by speeches from emissaries from as far away as Japan and the Netherlands, the latter announcing the establishment of a European Martin Luther King Center. Also in attendance were King’s closest confidantes: Congressman John Lewis; Ambassador Andrew Young; former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (who received a prolonged standing ovation); New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s pastor Eddie Long; and MLK’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., CEO of the King Center. Two of King’s surviing children did not attend the ceremony. Dexter Scott King is still recovering from a horrific accident in California. And MLK III was called upon by President Barack Obama to help provide the decisive vote on healthcare reform.
Speaking of Obama, West said it’s an absolute fallacy to call Barack Obama’s presidency the completion of King’s dream. “That’s not true,” he said. “It might be a fulfillment of the dream. But he’s not the fulfillment of the dream. Get it right.” –terry shropshire