We’re going dark for the rest of this national holiday, but we’d like to offer a (somewhat self-serving) reminder that behind Martin Luther King, Jr., stood a strong father–strong enough in fact that everyone knew him, long after his son was assassinated, as Daddy King.
Journalist Jim Buie has a nice remembrance of a speech Martin Luther King, Sr. gave in Fayetteville late in his life, that gives a good sense of who he was at the pulpit. He was also an activist and an educator (apparently when he was a trustee at Morehouse College, he was taken hostage by a group that included a young student named Samuel L. Jackson, who must have had it with those motherfucking Kings on that motherfucking campus).
For the domestic Daddy King, the book There is a Balm in Gilead by Lewis V. Baldwin gives a fine summary of Martin Luther King, Sr., as a father. From the book:
As a way of steering their children to excellence, Martin, Sr., and Alberta King stressed values that have been traditionally upheld by the black family. They emphasized education as the path to competence, culture, and economic security. Daddy King is said to have preached education and economic security “as though his law included twelve commandments which black people need to obey for these times: “Thou shalt get thy children to college” and “Thou shalt own thy own home.”
So that’s my homework for this day off: come up with my own commandments as a father. Surely I can still find enough Jew in me to work up an Old Testament-style list of things that matter. Yes, they will seem shallow by comparison (really, there’s no way to avoid that when workshopping against the life of the King family). I’m pretty sure already one of my commandments will just be aimed at the babysitter: “Thou shalt not put a diaper in the kitchen trash because that trash only gets taken out once a day and then the whole apartment stinketh like the 14th St C train platform.”
I’ll try to do better with the other eleven.
By the way: I know this is a light treatment of the King holiday, but it’s worth remembering–particularly for those who grew up in the post-iconic age of MLK Jr–that King was just a man. That’s what the Christians might call good news, because it means that it’s not really about celebrating some half-deity, but about appreciating all the people who keep doing his work. Nobody’s going to fill those shoes (especially not after King has been beatified by the rest of us), but some examples off the top of my head of people who work in his spirit, who are also just men (and women): Temple Grandin (animal rights/autism activist), Van Jones (green jobs guru/political martyr), Sean Eldridge (political director of Freedom to Marry who just got engaged to his boyfriend).
Enjoy the day.