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Glenn Beck's Attempt to Bastardize Dr. King's Dream

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By Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Race-Talk contributor, author of Bloody Lowndes

Rewriting history is one of the many offenses that political conservatives are constantly accusing liberals of committing. But no one is guiltier of this transgression than conservatives themselves, who have a particular fondness for rewriting the history of the civil rights movement, especially their opposition to its most visible leader – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the moment Dr. King stepped onto the national stage during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, until he fell to an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, political conservatives despised him. In the South, they hated him for trying to end de jure discrimination, and outside of Dixie, they loathed him for trying to end de facto discrimination. As the leading voice of the civil rights movement, Dr. King represented everything that political conservatives opposed.

In the 1980s, political conservatives began to embrace Dr. King, turning to him for moral cover as they waged war against affirmative action and other race-based efforts designed to remedy past and present racial discrimination.

Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington, was the key to their about-face. During Dr. King’s most famous speech, he articulated his dream of a colorblind society, one in which his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Political conservatives latched on to Dr. King’s speech, trumpeting his words as evidence that he opposed race-based solutions to race-based problems when in fact he supported them vehemently. Indeed, they re-wrote history – their own history and that of the civil rights movement – as they endeavored to preserve the last vestiges of white privilege.

Today, political conservatives, led by media showmen such as Glenn Beck, are once again turning to Dr. King to deflect charges of racism as they advance their agenda by questioning, among other things, the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president. To mask their own racism, they have turned history on its head, bastardizing Dr. King’s dream.

Political conservatives are not the heirs to Dr. King’s legacy, and to suggest otherwise is not just fanciful, but farcical. Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t know enough about history to separate fact from fiction.

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Author of "Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt." Hasan is an associate professor of African American history and holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute and the Department of History. Dr. Jeffries specializes in twentieth century African American history and has an expertise in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. His current book project investigates the African American Freedom Struggle in Lowndes County, Alabama, which gave birth in 1966 to the Lowndes County Freedom Party, an all Black, independent, political party that was also the original Black Panther Party. His recent publications include "SNCC, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in Alabama, 1964-1966," which appears in the Journal of African American History (Spring 2006). Dr. Jeffries has received several fellowships in support of his research, including a 2007-2008 Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship. Prior to arriving at The Ohio State University in 2003, he was a Bankhead Fellow in the History Department at the University of Alabama. Dr. Jeffries earned his B.A. in History from Morehouse College in 1994, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in African American History from Duke University in 1997 and 2002.