Last weekend Washington, DC awaited the showdown of “two opposing rallies.” I heard those words voiced by the host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” as I appeared on that program two days before the rally. We had a delightful time discussing the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK). The program focused very tastefully on the fact that quotes from Dr. King have recently been used to justify a wide variety of moral and political stances. From the far left to the far right and everyplace in between, different groups have claimed ownership of the spiritual mantle of our nation’s most quoted religious leader.
Two knowledgeable professors respectfully disagreed with my assertion that if alive today, MLK would be a conservative. The program ended with a projection that Glenn Beck and AL Sharpton were about to face off. In my mind they were billed as titans of epic strength with comparable followings. The only thing the 47th anniversary of MLK’s “March on Washington” lacked was a frizzy-haired Don King to ramp up excitement and draw more people to town.
As the public relations stage was set for the weekend, the mainstream media seemed to be siding with Rev. Al Sharpton. They unanimously questioned Glenn Beck’s motives and voiced their concerns about the crowd that would come to support him. They assumed that the attendees of Beck’s rally would be racist. They also assumed Beck’s tone would be angry.
Nothing was further from the truth. The crowd that filled the city was between 500,000 to 750,000 joyous and hopeful people. Many of them had come with their kids to participate in a historic event, a spiritual awakening. Neither Glenn Beck’s crowd nor their speakers did anything but celebrate those who had brought honor to America in their own individual ways.
Meanwhile, back at the Sharpton event, the 2,000-3,000 in attendance continually disparaged their rival event. Although several of my friends felt that the emphasis on educational excellence was very commendable, it carried the same old tone of past Sharpton events. The reports I received reminded me of a scene in the Rocky IV movie in which Apollo Creed, a former American champion, faced a Soviet foe (Ivan Drago). Unprepared for the realities of fighting in the new era, Creed died in the ring because he was stuck in an old mindset. Rocky, on the other hand, eventually beat the nearly bionic foreign hero by keeping his tried and true values of hard work and valor; while updating his specific fight strategy.
The most memorable aspect of the “Restoring Honor Rally” was the segment led by Alveda King. I was asked by Dr. King to share the stage with her along with 5 other African-American leaders and 2 incredible singers. She took great delight in turning her allotted time into a mini-church service of its own. After two songs emphasing rebuilding the house of God and unity in the church combined with appropriate scriptures, Dr. King thanked Beck for convening the event. She boldly declared that Glenn had focused on “the content of our character and not the color of our skin.” This, as you will recall, was at the heart of the MLK dream. Her short speech was masterfully crafted. Her words pierced the atmosphere like Fourth of July fireworks after sundown. “I have a dream that white privilege will become human privilege...I have a dream that America will pray and God will forgive our sins and revive our land...”—these were just a few of her most poignant phrases.
As she spoke the crowd rose to its feet. There was electricity in her interaction with the crowd that was more dynamic than at any other point in the rally. She received the largest cheers of the day.
“What made Alveda King so effective on Saturday?” was a question that ran through my mind. I realized that personal, Christ-like suffering brought on by her standing up for her convictions has produced a unique grace in her life. Many people do not realize that she has a particular “responsibility” to speak out on civil rights. Her responsibility is born out of the fact that both her father and his brother (Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. ) were martyred during the civil rights movement - just one year apart. Martin died first, followed by his younger brother A.D. (Alveda’s father).
Although I have known Dr. Alveda King for years, I just recently learned from her website that she is also a mother of 8 children and a “doting” grandmother. On top of all these life experience credentials and degrees in journalism, sociology, and business administration, she actually served her state in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1978 to 1981. It is sufficient to say that she is a serious woman who has done serious work in her community. After Dr. King spoke, it seemed to me that the mantle for leadership had returned to the King family and to a multi-racial group of champions.
Rev. Sharpton correctly assumed that August 28th would mark the beginning of a new civil rights movement. He was told by his cronies that he would be crowned as the king of a new movement. Unfortunately for him, his leadership days are numbered because a new “Black Robed Regiment” is being raised up in the US - with Alveda King as one of its generals. Beck’s rally and these new spiritual leaders out-recruited Sharpton by a ratio of 200 to 1 on August 28th. They are convinced that they will lead the nation into a new era of racial harmony and a spiritual awakening just as transforming as the physical American Revolution was in the 1700s.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.