Scholar Says to Remember All of King's Legacy
by Howard W. Hewitt
January 18, 2005
The nation pauses the third Monday of each January to celebrate the
nation’s most prophetic civil rights leader and activist. But do we
celebrate only a part of Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy?
"God is not a Christian or a Muslim. God is not a Democrat or a
Republican," said Dr. Lewis Baldwin, a King scholar who participated in
the civil rights movement of the 1960s in his home state of Alabama.
"There is nothing wrong with remembering and celebrating a dreamer, but
what are we going to do to realize the dream?"
Dr. Baldwin, a religion professor at Vanderbilt University, spoke Jan.
17 to Wabash students, faculty and staff in Salter Hall.
Throughout the course of his 30-minute presentation Baldwin said America
tends to celebrate the King they remember from the "I Have a Dream"
speech of 1963 and not the King who spent most of his time before being
assassinated in 1968 discussing social and economic injustices. Baldwin
emphasized that King came to understand those social and economic
injustices affected blacks, whites, and Latinos.
"I think people are more fearful of that King because the people in
power, that control the media, etc., want us to remember the King that
talked about holding hands and rubbing shoulders and elbows," Baldwin
said during a post-lecture reception. "But what about the King who
called upon the rich and powerful and those who own the media, those who
control politics, the purse strings of the economy … what about calling
upon them to give up some of what they have?
"I don’t think they want us to see that King. They don’t want us to see
the King who was addressing foreign policy issues. They realize that
kind of King is much more threatening to the status quo."
Baldwin’s lecture and two-day campus visit was sponsored by the Wabash
Religion and Speech Departments, the Multi-Cultural Concerns Committee,
the Hadley Fund, and the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies.
"What I liked is hearing Dr. Baldwin say is that you have to take King
as a whole," said Malcolm X chairman Robert Alexander’05. "We seem to
focus on one part or another but people change, people progress, and
they evolve. Baldwin really illustrated how the King message has
evolved. He brought an awareness to us how King pushed and that we have
to have leadership that’s willing to fight to the death, that’s still
Alexander and other students questioned Dr. Baldwin for another 30
minutes following his lecture. A common theme in the questioning was the
scholar’s advice to young people who want to make a difference. It’s a
question that makes Baldwin uncomfortable.
"I was in college and high school during the civil rights movement,"
Baldwin explained. "And what happened with us just happened. We didn’t
have a lot of time to do a lot of thinking about what to do. The issues
were there and we just responded.
"When it comes to changing the structures of injustice, I think you have
to take other approaches. We did it through sit-ins, freedom rides,
protests, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. But now a lot
of scholars are saying ‘no, you can’t use the methods of the 60s to
address contemporary problems because you’re talking about economic
justice and international peace. That just won’t work.’"
During his presentation Baldwin said much of the 60’s protest was to
remove racial barriers, taking down the signs segregating "colored
people" from whites. The issues were clearly defined, like the
integration of schools. Today’s problems are obviously more complicated.
"You must be aware and must be willing to devote your time, energy and
resources – even at the risk of life and limb – to pursue whatever ideal
you have in mind. This is what Dr. King taught us, even the risk of life
to achieve the beloved community ideal."
In photo at top: Alexander listens while Baldwin responds to
question. At lower right, Baldwin signs a copy of his book on Dr. Martin
Luther King for student Aaron Miller '06.