Can You Hear King Now?

“Can you hear King now?” While I was getting ready to hunt Monday, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was asking that question repeatedly during his keynote speech at Lexington’s Martin Luther King Commemorative Program. I’m glad I hunted, but after an enthusiastic email from someone who had been at the speech, I’m also sorry I missed it.

The speech got reasonably good coverage in both the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Kentucky Kernel (the UK campus newspaper). Unfortunately, I think Wright’s message will not be heard, just as he says King’s message has not been heard.

There’s always some room for skepticism when someone invokes the name of a long-dead hero to support a controversial position, as Wright did when he used King’s legacy to criticize the Iraq war. It’s easy to say King would have been against it; it’s a little harder to be sure that’s true.

But Wright backed up his statements with extensive quotes from King’s 1967Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence speech. Reading that speech gives one an idea of just how strong King’s feelings were, and some of his statements apply equally well to the situation almost 40 years later. It also makes it easier to believe Wright’s view that some of King’s messages have been intentionally silenced by a society that pretends to honor him while not being completely comfortable with what he had to say.

“After 2,200 American boys and girls are dead in a war they do not understand,” Wright said, “can you hear King now?
“I hope to God you can hear him so we can begin to live together as brothers and sisters before we all die together as fanatical fools.” From what I was told about the crowd’s reaction, they heard King, and they heard Wright. Unfortunately, I’m afraid not enough other people are hearing either one of them.

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