Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The March on Washington & King's global vision

As this rundown of recent news stories shows, there's been a lot of been a lot of excitement leading up to the 50th anniversary today of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the occasion for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  The coverage of the anniversary has been a mix of looking back, assessing the current state of racial equality in the United States, and looking forward to how to continue the civil rights movement in a new era.

Much of the coverage has, appropriately, been very America-focused.  It has examined the history and status of civil rights for African-Americans in the United States, which was the point of the March on Washington.  Yet as we're commemorating this event, we should remember that for King, the civil rights movement was not just about what happened in the United States.  This is the root of the oft-quotes King quote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  King meant the "where" in that quote at least in part in a literal, geographic sense.

King saw the civil rights movement as part of a global effort to combat the "triple evils" of racism, materialism, and militarism.  King understood that these triple evils were not just a problem in the United States, but also affected other countries and how the United States interacted with other countries.  Thus, King took an interest in the situation of the dalits in India, a situation he saw as marked by intra-Indian racism, and spoke out against the Vietnam War, a conflict he saw as driven by anti-Asian racism, capitalist materialist interests, and American militarism.

Moreover, part of what helped King in his civil rights crusade was the sense that how American behaved with regard to race mattered because it affected how America was perceived by other nations.  King emphasized that in order for the United States to be a great nation in the eyes of other nations, it had to live up to its promises and rhetoric of equality for all.  Many of the white political leaders that ended up agreeing with King found that argument persuasive.

The dream King preached about 50 years ago was a dream for the United States and the future of race relations in the United States.  But we would be wrong to remember King as a leader who was only concerned with what went on in the United States.  If King's dream was American, his vision of the beloved community to which God calls us was global.

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