On Friday, April 4, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Television, radio, print media, and the internet were filled with tributes to Dr. King. In a few years, a memorial to Dr. King will be completed in Washington, D.C., amid the memorials to Jefferson and Lincoln.
The media events and the memorial are tributes to the remarkable achievements of Dr. King’s life and his struggle against racism and oppression. Unfortunately, some used the occasion to offer an apologist’s argument for tacit support of blatantly racist comments on the local level and, on the national level, to explain a 40-year evolution in understanding how significant Dr. King indeed was to fulfilling our nation’s promise of equality.
In his remarks in Memphis on Friday, Senator John McCain stated that his strong resistance to a national holiday honoring Dr. King was a mistake. His active obstruction to honoring that holiday in his home state of Arizona was a mistake. It has taken Mr. McCain 40 years to recognize his actions as mistakes.
I have great respect for anyone who admits his mistakes. But can we afford leaders at any level who don’t recognize immediately the significance of their actions? Racist comments need to be recognized for what they are—now, not several years from now, after their harmful impact has been realized. Unjustified declarations of war need to be recognized for the damage they will do—now, not years from now after the great loss of life and a national treasure. Great social leaders need to be recognized for their greatness—now, not years from now after their greatness has been stolen from us.
It’s about judgment, not hindsight.