Jackson column: Mixed emotions for MLK memorial

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 26, 2011

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial officially opens I will battle mixed emotions.
The early pictures of the image of Dr. King carved out of a 30-foot granite “Stone of Hope” is nothing short of breathtaking. The 450-foot mural engraved with quotes from King’s greatest speeches captures the imagination. Over 20 years in the making, the monument is the result of the tenacity of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and private contributions from generous donors and corporate sponsors.
There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. King is worthy of such a high honor and that the National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. responsible for the memorial’s erection is deserving of our nation’s sincere gratitude.
According to Coretta Scott King in “A Testament of Hope” (1986), Martin was reluctant to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 because he did not want to deflect attention from the Civil Rights Movement. I wonder how he would feel about this National Memorial.
When he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, King was arguably one of the most hated people in America. Not only because of his fight for equality amongst all people, but also for his anti-war positions, his demand for jobs for the unemployed masses and economic enfranchisement for the poor. King called for a “War on Poverty” in America and took the Johnson administration to task in regards to economic empowerment for the poor.
Forty-three years later, on the eve of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, many of the same problems facing our nation in 1968 challenge us today. The longest war in American history rages on, lacking the tax dollars to fight it and public sentiment to support it, similar to Vietnam in the late 1960s. Double-digit unemployment and recession are the order of the day, as it was in 1968. The “War on Poverty” was conducted with rubber bullets so that the enemy (economic disparity) has never been fatally wounded.
One hundred twenty-five million dollars to build a monument to the legacy of Dr. King is commendable and noble, but I wonder what kind of impact that type of joint financial effort could have on job creation for the desperate? What type of impact would $125 million have on moving poor people in North Carolina from welfare to work? How many poor people with major medical issues and no health insurance (in the most powerful nation in the world) could $125 million save from premature death?
So I will stand in the pulpit on the day the King Memorial is dedicated and wipe away tears of joy that God’s Drum Major for Justice is being honored by America for his service to our nation.
I will also shed tears of sorrow that his radical words of social action for social change are being sanitized and domesticated so that the guilty won’t be ashamed of maintaining the status quo. What shall we do about the poor now that our champion is dead?
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8)
Dr. George B. Jackson is pastor of Citadel of Faith Christian Fellowship.