Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

No, Martin Luther King would not have endorsed Gun Appreciation Day

Rush Limbaugh thinks John Lewis should have been armed.

"If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma?" he said recently on his radio show, referencing the 1965 voting rights campaign in which Mr. Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, had his skull fractured by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. "If John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?"

Right. Because a shootout between protesters and state troopers would have done so much more to secure the right to vote.

Incredibly, that's not the stupidest thing anyone has said recently about the Civil Rights Movement.

No, that distinction goes to one Larry Ward, who claimed in an appearance on CNN that Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported Mr. Ward's call for a Gun Appreciation Day "if he were alive today." In other words, the premiere American pacifist of the 20th century would be singing the praises of guns, except that he was shot in the face with one 45 years ago.

Thus do social conservatives continue to rewrite the inconvenient truths of African-American history, repurposing that tale of incandescent triumph and inconsolable woe to make it useful within the crabbed corners of their failed and discredited dogma. This seems an especially appropriate moment to call them on it. Not simply because Friday was the first day of Black History Month, but because today is the centenary of a signal event within that history.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born a hundred years ago. You know her better by her married name — Rosa Parks, the quiet, unassuming 42-year-old seamstress from Montgomery, Ala., who ignited the Civil Rights Movement in December 1955 when bus driver J.F. Blake ordered her to give up her seat for a white man and she refused.

Doubtless, Mr. Limbaugh thinks she should have shot Blake instead, but she did not. She only waited quietly for police to come arrest her. Thus began the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Though legend would have it that Parks, who died in 2005, refused because her feet were tired, the truth, she always said, was that it was not her body that was fatigued. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in" to a system that judged her, as a black woman, unworthy of a seat on a public bus.

Years later, Martin Luther King Jr., the young preacher who led the boycott, would phrase that philosophy of refusal in terms of rhetorical elegance: "Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good."

Mrs. Parks put it more simply that day in 1955: "No," she said.

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., which counts Rosa Parks' bus among its holdings, has persuaded the Senate to designate today a "National Day of Courage" in her honor. Full disclosure: I gave a compensated speech for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights at the Museum last month. While there, I had the distinct privilege of climbing onto that bus.

Sitting in that sacred space, it is easy to imagine yourself transported back to that fateful moment of decision. Fifty-eight years later, those of us who are guardians — and beneficiaries — of African-American history, who live in a world transformed by the decisions of Rosa, Martin, Fannie Lou, Malcolm, Frederick, W.E.B., Booker T. and a million others whose names history did not record, now have decisions of our own to make. One of them is this:

What shall we say to conservatives who seem hell-bent on rewriting, disrespecting and arrogating that history? Many sharp rebukes come to mind, but none of them improves on the brave thing said by a tired woman born a hundred years ago this week.

No.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Men, their sons and their lawns

      Men, their sons and their lawns

      Along with eye color and a knack for rolling your tongue, an obsession with the grass around your house is hereditary, I have learned. It is also, apparently, a sex-linked gene, because no little girl has ever been born wanting to mow the lawn.

    • Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

      Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

      The searing spotlight of media scrutiny fell upon a Maryland state's attorney, a rising star in Democratic politics. After a high-profile beating death, the young prosecutor convened a news conference to announce murder charges, detail the evidence and insist that the public's desire for justice...

    • Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

      Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

      By now everyone has had their say about Jeb Bush's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The consensus is that Mr. Bush misheard Megyn Kelly's "knowing what we know now" question about the Iraq war. I'm not convinced.

    • Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

      Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

      In the last few weeks we've heard much about the neglected and underdeveloped parts of Baltimore and how decades of degradation and neglect played a role in the recent social upheaval and civil unrest. Almost universally we've heard activists, experts and thought leaders tout education as a surefire...

    • Don't give up on Baltimore, Preakness

      Don't give up on Baltimore, Preakness

      There's been talk about moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico, which is in my district and has been home to the second leg of The Triple Crown for 140 years, to Laurel. I get it. Pimlico needs work to bring its facility up to par with Laurel Raceway. Laurel is closer to Washington and would...

    • The failed war on drugs continues to amass casualties in Baltimore and beyond

      The failed war on drugs continues to amass casualties in Baltimore and beyond

      As rightly concerned and upset as we are about Freddie Gray's death in police custody, we ought to be just as concerned about the body count that existed prior to his death and has been on the rise ever since (there have been roughtly three dozen homicides in Baltimore since Gray died, not counting...

    Comments
    Loading

    73°