With all due respect, we failed Mrs. King

Febrruary 6, 2006
Some believe that Mrs. King failed on several levels. This is in no way a departure point for discussion. If Mrs. King failed, then Dr. King failed, as well as Malcolm X, Nat Turner, Denmark Vescey, Harriet Tubman, and many others. These are all individuals who led their own lives and, often by default had to represent an entire movement. We cannot call people failures who lived their lives selflessly for others.

Furthermore, we do Coretta a disservice by comparing ourselves to her. I raise no human being to God-status, but I have a healthy respect for people who put their lives on the line for me and all who read this. It is a shame that we can raise rappers like the late Tupac to God or Malcolm X-status in his passing but be so critical of people who have never defamed the image of black people. Whether you are a Tupac fan or not, you cannot deny that during his lifetime, he hurt the black cause probably more than he helped it. Can we say the same for Mrs. King?

While we chastise Mrs. King for not carrying on her husband’s legacy properly, let us not forget that she was her own person who created her own legacy. If a U.S. President dies, no one speaks of the former First Lady as having to carry on the legacy of her husband. They are allowed to just be. The Reverend Al Sharpton and many others spoke at length last week about all the bold moves Mrs. King took to keep them focused on the struggle, long after Dr. King passed. He credits her with keeping them on task and not becoming in mind and heart the same as their enemy. Through her death, she passed on another lesson to me through a quote from Al Sharpton: “She reminded us that when your heart us in the right place, your mind and body will go in the right direction.

It was entirely up to Mrs. King to promote her husband’s legacy as she saw fit. I cannot speak for Dr. King, but I doubt he was looking down from his resting place in disgust at how she has failed him. If we are to not give credit to one man or woman for an entire movement, we should not blame one man or woman for the “failures” of that movement. In terms of the King Center, we should view the fact that the King children are disagreeing amicably (no defaming of each other in the media, for example) about the legacy of the Center as a testimony to their mother’s teaching.

Is black America in disarray? Of course. All of America is. But we who are part of this next generation of leadership are old enough to no longer blame our ancestors and current elders for what they did not pass on. We know the mistakes of the past and have no excuse to not learn from those mistakes. We should be thinking about what 20-something-year-olds will be saying about us in 50 years and what we have “failed” to accomplish. Collectively, we are all failing our forefathers and mothers in some way, shape or form. At the same time, collectively, we need to continue to learn from what worked and what did not work in our historical continuum. In the struggle for human rights, the only people who “fail” are the people who truly are blind to the cause for social justice. Mrs. King was visionary for justice on par with any human being who has walked the face of this earth. Let’s not let her down.

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