MLK, Glenn Beck, and racism: these themes are still echoing long after the conclusion of Beck's monumental rally on the anniversary of King's "I Have A Dream" speech last month.
Dr. Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, has been under fire for her participation in the event, with fault lines running not only from liberal critics but also from the black conservative Christian movement and in the conservative movement at large.
Alveda King is both defensive and realistic about her involvement.
“The principles of faith, hope, charity, love, honor – we are taught to honor God, to honor our families – and love our neighbors… and I believe the message that Glenn delivered helped us do that,” she said in an interview.
“The answer to all of the religious questions: it wasn’t about Glenn the person, or Glenn the man – it was Glenn the message. I’m not a naysayer, I’m a unifier,” she said.
Detractors claim she was dishonoring her uncle’s legacy by participating in the rally, because the conservative talk show host had allegedly dishonored the cause of civil rights. In these critics’ opinions, Beck represents the antithesis of King’s civil rights legacy, and can even be characterized as racist.
“Is Glenn Beck a racist?” asked Rev. Anthony Evans, President of National Black Church Initiative. “I think in Glenn Beck’s eyes, he is not a racist, but for those of us who understand code words, that Glenn Beck is dangerous.”
Evans said that he respected Alveda’s participation, however.
“I think she has a right – I think she was right to be there,” said Evans. “I think that one of the failures of black leadership is that we have given all of our cookies to one person. For African Americans to be successful politically, we have to be in every single party, so we can make sure our interests are addressed.”
Reverend Al Sharpton, who held a counter-rally to Beck on 8/28, did not even grant her that much. Sharpton claims that the elder King relied heavily on the government in order to accomplish his social objectives, while the Beck bunch promotes exactly the opposite.
“From my study of history, those that claim to be the Tea Partiers and the followers and supporters of Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin were the ones that today advocate the things that that march was against,” said Sharpton, in an interview with Keith Olbermann. “Their idea of government and the idea that Dr. King and Roy Wilkins of—and others espoused is the exact opposite of what they're calling for.”
Alveda King roundly rejects that notion.
“Reverend Sharpton, you’re saying that my uncle sought help from government. I say, no, my uncle sought help from God, so that the people elected to govern would seek help from God,” said Alveda King. “When we look to government, I believe we’re diluting the source of strength from which our power comes.”
That message was similar to the one that Beck communicated slightly before the rally.
“I’ve read his speeches, I’ve read his sermons, I have listened and respect the words he said,” Beck told Townhall.com. “I take him at his face value and that is to follow God, listen to God, be peaceful, but stand for the right of man to be equal, and have an equal shot and that it is not about the color of skin, it is about the content of character.”
Dean Nelson, executive director of the Network of Politically Active Christians, spoke at Beck’s rally and had been involved with the planning efforts before it took place. He said that Beck’s message relied heavily on Alveda King’s presence.
“I think he brought a great deal of credibility from David Barton and Alveda King and Bishop Jackson. If it weren’t for those people, I don’t think that Glenn Beck would have the level of credibility within the evangelical community, and within social conservative circles,” said Nelson.
“In the African American community, that’s still going to be a rock that they justifiably can throw at Glenn Beck, but there was such emphasis on faith, and on stage, such a large number percentage-wise of African Americans, of faith leaders, that I think he’s doing all that he can to highlight diversity within the faith community,” he said.
Nelson said two of the main reasons that the black faith community had deviated from Beck’s leadership was because of the gay rights issue and Beck’s Mormon faith. Homosexual unions are a focal point of African-American religious-political activism, and Beck made headlines for declaring his agnosticism on the issue; Mormon theology is even more at odds with evangelical Christianity than is Judaism, according to Nelson.
“All of us as socially conservative Christians should think what our principles are…. and don’t alienate those who we are trying to preach,” said Nelson. “The whole Mormon issue, that’s a big question mark for me, but because of my close friendship with David and Alveda, that’s what made me participate. I still know plenty of African-American leaders who did not attend – mostly because as Christian leaders, they did not want to associate themselves with Mormonism.”
Still, Nelson is positive about the event, as evidenced by his participation. That positive attitude is something that Alveda King emphasizes, which she illustrated by drawing a parallel between criticism of her stance civil rights and her support for traditional marriage.
“I’m not anti-King, I’m not anti-marriage,” she said. “I don’t pick one side of the whole picture and say this is a problem. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Glenn Beck just has his issues. He’s got bigger fish to fry.”