Martin Luther King Jr. has been dead for nearly 46 years; since then, his public image has gradually been watered down from the political warrior he was to a more saintly, almost cuddly, "peace and love" character. I understand that it was probably inevitable that King's vital role as the 20th century's most effective fighter for racial and economic justice would be toned down once we entered a more conservative era beginning in the 1980s. Yet someone still has to ask...
What in God's name was Pat McCrory doing giving the first speech at the annual MLK Jr. prayer breakfast?
About 1,400 people showed up, according to the event's sponsor, at the McCrorey Family YMCA on Beatties Ford Road (proceeds benefit the Y). Other speakers included Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon and actor Hill Harper, the latter of which at least talked about King's role as a confrontational political activist. According to two attendees who spoke on condition of anonymity, "eyebrows shot up, and more than a few people groaned" when McCrory, who wasn't listed on the program, was introduced. McCrorey YMCA spokesperson Molly Thompson said the Y did not receive a confirmation of the governor's attendance until after the event's programs had been printed.
The governor dished out some boilerplate blahblah about how Charlotte's past leaders embraced the civil rights movement and led the city to a peachy future, and then left early. The gov didn't mention that those "past leaders'" primary motive was the avoidance of any racial "trouble" that would keep potential investors away from Charlotte, but OK. At least they did more than most other Southern cities at the time, so McCrory's oratory was only a slightly sweetened version of history.
King's own history, on the other hand, has been so diluted, he's hardly recognizable to anyone who remembers him. King was all about in-your-face confrontations with racism and injustice in order to bring about radical changes. Period. These days, though, white people who weren't around during King's time are led to think of him as some kind of black Santa Claus who would want all of us to do more community service work and nothing more. That's bad enough, but for an MLK commemoration event to lead off with a speech from a man who did more than any N.C. governor in memory to stick it to black citizens and the poor of any race - think voter suppression, refusing to expand Medicaid and cutting unemployment insurance - is just ludicrous. The Y's Thompson, however, stated that "including him was not political. He's the governor."