Turning a funeral pulpit into a political soapbox

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 12:05 AM

It's sad to say but it must be said. It should be clear to anyone who watched the tasteless politicization of Coretta Scott King's funeral by a black minister and by a former president why the black community remains, after all these years, as troubled as it is.

Children of the civil rights movement of the '60s are grandparents today. Babies born after the Civil Rights Act are now parents. Yet, despite the passing of generations, not only do many of the problems in the black community persist, but by many important measures, we're much worse off than we were 50 years ago.

Why do things go on with so little change? Why do they get worse?

One big reason, as the Rev. Joseph Lowery so aptly demonstrated at Mrs. King's funeral, is that those who have exercised leadership in our community since those days in the 1960s, those whom black citizens have listened to and heeded, have never understood, or never wanted to understand, when it's time to turn off the politics and the show business.

Is the pulpit at a funeral, any funeral, the place to be talking about the politics of the war in Iraq?

Aside from the question of propriety, what about the message? "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor?"

Does Lowery really believe that blacks are suffering today because they are not getting enough government money?

As I, and others, have pointed out, time and again, incomes of intact black families, those with a married father and mother living at home with their children, are in line with those of all Americans.

The glaring pockets of poverty in the black community are in the broken families, the single parent homes. The incidence of these broken families is three times higher today than they were in the 1960's when Lowery was marching with Dr. King.

If personal responsibility, and really trying to solve problems, were Lowery's game, he'd be trying to understand what happened.

If he thought about it, and wanted to be honest about it, he might appreciate that because he and his colleagues couldn't get off the soapbox after the work was done in 1965, just as he couldn't get off the soapbox at Mrs. King's funeral, they helped lead a community that was breaking out of the shackles of oppression into a new slavery of dependence.

These black leaders helped build a culture built on the assumption that freedom and justice was always one new government program away. The behavioral problems that have besieged our community since the 1960s - family collapse, promiscuity, drugs, crime, disrespect for education - directly result from this.

I'm sure Lowery must have some way to blame President Bush for the fact that although blacks constitute 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 47 percent of the million Americans with HIV infection. Or to point to Republicans as the cause of HIV/AIDS rates being 19 times higher among black women than among white women and seven times higher among black men than among white men.

Surely Lowery must believe that if the United States didn't invade Iraq, black women today would not be aborting as many babies as they are birthing.

Certainly, in the good reverend's mind, if it weren't for Republicans, the majority of black men would marry the women they impregnate and seven out of 10 black children wouldn't be in homes without fathers.

President Carter also did his part to get the word out about what the problems are in black America.

"We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, those who were most devastated by Katrina, to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."

I guess it must have been a freak of nature that opened the door for Condoleezza Rice to emerge out of the backwaters of Alabama to become provost of Stanford University and make her way to become our secretary of state.

The good news is that as I travel around the country, I have a sense that increasing numbers of blacks are getting the message that they don't need government. They're discovering that opportunity in America is there for everyone. But that success reflects the values that individuals, regardless of color, adopt today and the choices they make.

It's sad that today blacks still have to hear from a minister who worked with Dr. King and from a former president of the United States that they suffer because America is racist and because the government doesn't spend enough money. But, as was once said, we shall overcome.