“Can you hear King now?”. Almost four years ago, I wrote about a local Martin Luther King celebration in which the audience was asked that question repeatedly. The speaker, a pastor from Chicago named Jeremiah Wright, quoted extensively from King’s 1967 Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence speech to support his suggestion that King would be as strongly opposed to the Iraq war as he was to the Vietnam war. “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.” Since that speech, there have been some ironic twists in history.
A couple of years after he spoke in Lexington, Pastor Wright became much more famous, or infamous, because of his ties to one of his parishioners who was on his way to greater fame. One of the members of Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ was a US Senator named Barack Obama. When Obama ran for President in 2008, the mudslingers seized on some of Wright’s more incendiary rhetoric and tried to tarnish Obama with it.
I’m sure you all know your history and remember the outcome of that election. It was significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the tribute to King’s legacy, as enough US voters renounced racism to elect our first African-American President. I find myself wondering if at some point after the election, Pastor Wright called his former parishioner and repeated his question “Can you hear King now?” If he had, the question would have been in a celebratory tone, rather than its previous accusatory tone, as there is no doubt that Obama’s election was a major step on the road to the fulfillment of King’s dream.
Barely a year after that historic election, its glory is fading as our new President continues far too many of the unwise policies of his predecessor. As he claims to be ending the Iraq war, which was the subject of Wright’s 2006 speech, he is continuing and escalating another misguided quagmire in Afghanistan. As I write this, he is trying to convince the public, including many disillusioned former supporters, that throwing away more lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan is the kind of policy for which he won the Nobel peace prize.
And I find myself wishing our President would get an angry phone call from his former pastor, asking, “Can you hear King now?”