Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reflections on Coretta Scott King

Like her husband, she was no plaster lawn saint. She was a real, flesh+blood human being, like anyone else. Which, when you think about it, was pretty much the whole point of the civil rights movement: getting the white majority to accept blacks as fellow human beings, fellow Americans.

She had a petty side. Rumor had it that she would glare at seated Atlanta policemen she encountered along her way, until they respectfully stood up. She wasn't above tampering with juries. (I heard all that on the local talk radio over the years, so make of that what you will.)

She, through the King Center, called the U.S. Park Service Klansmen and lynchers, no different from her husband's murderers. This because of the Park Service's overtures to run the Center as a historical site, given its chronic lack of cash. She, along with her brood, descended into the fever swamps of conspiracy theory and became allies of her husband's murderer, James Earl Ray. She ended up in a quack clinic in Mexico, seeking a cure for her cancer. What, you think Atlanta doesn't have top-flight cancer treatment right here in town?

And yet she is a heroine. She always will be. She was so much more than that insipid cliche, an "inspiration". In the heyday of the civil rights movement she played the familiar yet probably under-appreciated supportive role by which we know her best. In the Seventies and beyond she had a hand in the decidedly less glamorous and more thankless detail work of getting civil rights expanded and entrenched in American life. She succeeded: there are no legal barriers for blacks any longer to full participation in American life. (To my mind, the civil right movement is over, seeing as how none of the problems plaguing the American black community stem from any unjust laws. But that's another post.)

Fortune rarely accompanies anyone to the door, as the saying goes. And indeed her reputation took some rude knocks in her final decade. The "Ka-ching" family, they were called in their grabbier moments. But I am extremely grateful, every day, for the good race relations this country enjoys today--which I enjoy, in my daily life. It wouldn't have been possible without her. I wouldn't have grown up the same without her. In some ways, I am one of the seeds that she broadcast in her life's work. However much I loathe the phonies and shakedown artists that call themselves the civil rights leadership nowadays, there's no denying the solid bedrock of accomplishments they're perching on.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
-- Psalms 116:15

UPDATE: The quack clinic doesn't seem to be drawing a lot of media attention, so here's more about it. Desperate people are not skeptical people; please don't let crooks swindle your ill loved ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by! Please keep your comments civil and on-topic. Spammage will be cheerfully removed.