Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Desultory Dedication

The official dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial had to be postponed because of Hurricane Irene. Harry Johnson, Sr, president of the memorial foundation, consulted with Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and the National Park Service and made the decision to postpone the ceremony until late September or early October.

That did not dissuade Martin Luther King's old fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, from holding their own dedication. The event turned into a desultory dedication, filled with gaffes.

First, the ceremony was sparsely attended. The National Park Service anticipated 250,000 for the official dedication. The Alpha Phi Alpha event was attended by . . . well . . . hundreds. Thousands of empty fold out chairs filled the Mall.

Second, the Reverend Bernice King, daughter of the civil rights leader, delivered a disjointed dedication speech that possessed none of the rhetorical flair of her father.

Third, during the speech King alluded to Lincoln and his signing of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, of course, wrote and signed the Declaration. Lincoln used the Declaration's core ideas in his speech dedicating the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA. Although conservative pundits noted the error, mainstream media outlets gave her the pass that they never allow for conservative female speakers.

Finally, the symbolic location of the King Memorial eluded Ms. King. The memorial sits between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials because King sought to remind Americans of their ideals as articulated by those two men and how we needed to starting living up to those ideals.

Instead, Bernice King tried to create her own symbolism and only confounded traditional symbolism in the process. In an effort to elevate her father at the expense of Lincoln, she somehow found meaning in the fact that King is standing and Lincoln is seated in their respective memorials.

Traditionally, however, the symbolic significance of a seated leader is not deference but authority. That is why kings have thrones. While the United States is a republic and not a monarchy, Lincoln's seat represents judgment and justice.

One standing near the authority is a mere attendant. Sorry, Ms. King, despite the great achievements of your father, Lincoln is not taking a “backseat” to anyone.

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