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Martin Luther King

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The holidays are over, and America slouches happily toward the next one, which is Martin Luther King Day in just two weeks.

In Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the locals are already celebrating by a racial power struggle between whites and blacks. What the New York Times reported about the conflict last month tells us something about race relations today. [King Statue, a Unity Symbol, Severely Tests the Dream, By Jeffrey Gettleman, NYT, December 13, 2003]

Rocky Mount is a small city that is 55 percent white and 45 percent black, and for years the whites who have historically run the place have tried to show the blacks how progressive they are on racial issues. In 1997 the white-run city decided to build a public park that honored King, who actually invited himself to Rocky Mount back in 1962 and delivered his usual oration about having a dream, etc. To honor King even more, the city fathers commissioned a statue of him to adorn the park and inspire everybody.

They gave the contract to a sculptor in Chicago, and he built a model that was put on display in the City Hall and arts center and stood there for more than a year. A black-majority commission approved the design, and the statue was built and installed last summer.

The blacks didn’t like it.

A local black church leader, the Rev. Elbert Lee, announced “That ain’t Dr. King. The lips, the eyes, the mustache, the cheeks. It don’t look like him.”

The sculptor turned out to be white. You perhaps begin to see the problem.

“White people don’t look at us as we look at ourselves,” a local black artist named Ed Dwight intoned to the Times. “I compete with many white artists all over the country, and they bring their maquettes in and they don’t look anything like the subject.”

It’s a black thing, I guess. Mr. Dwight himself says, “It’s a cultural thing, a very, very spiritual thing.”

Whatever it is, it’s a problem for the local installment of racial harmony the city’s white bigwigs imagined they were boosting. As the Timesreports:

“The moment the statue went up, people started grumbling, especially residents in the mostly black neighborhood where it was placed. For some, the statue’s pose seemed ‘arrogant’ and the face did not look like Dr. King’s. And worse, some said the sculptor who made it is white.”

The sculptor is Eric Blome, who has made sculptures of such black icons as Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and King himself for various public memorials. There’s a big trade in black statues these days, you see, what with all these white bigwigs promoting racial harmony all the time.

But the problem is you can’t have harmony when the sculptor’s a white guy.

“We need an artist who can relate,” says a local black resident, who with others is demanding the city junk the statue and spring for a new one.

What Rocky Mount really needs is probably to forget the whole thing and name the park after Andy Griffith or Jesse Helms or somebody who actually had something to do with the state. What the white guys who run the town accomplished with their phony little adventure in racial harmony was to plow the divisions deeper than ever.

As the Times also notes:

“Rocky Mount is now polarized as ever, over a symbol of racial unity, which has sparked protests and fiery night meetings in old churches, untapping an energy rarely seen since the civil rights days when people were marching in the streets with the living, breathing Dr. King.”

And what is behind the division is not “culture” or “spirit” or some other opacity but race. What the experiment with the King statue shows is that race remains real, at least for the black side of the conflict.

For the whites, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but they tried to pretend at least that race didn’t matter. What they found is that it does.

Last month, blacks took over a majority on the city council for the first time in the city’s history, “marking,” as the Times reports, “a shift of power that has worked its way through many Southern cities as white residents flock to the suburbs.”

Now we’ll see whose statue the city puts up and who it looks like.

As for the sculptor, he has his own thoughts about the episode:“That’s what’s so frustrating about this whole thing. This is a statue of Martin Luther King. Wasn’t King about transcending race?”

Well, not really.

What King was about was the same thing the statue episode is about—the awakening of one race and its gradual displacement of another.

It just took a few years for that to become clear.

For the sculptor and the white guys who hired him and a lot of other people, it still isn’t.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Martin Luther King 
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking one kick to its shins after another, from the Robert Hanssen spy scandal to its screw-up of evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing to the most recent tale of how piles of its own weapons and equipment have suddenly vanished, and all this on top of the Waco and Ruby Ridge disasters a few years ago. It almost makes you think the time is ripe for reform.

In fact, not a few people are talking about reforming the FBI, and some suggestions seem to make sense. One that doesn’t but which nevertheless tells us quite a bit about the kinds of minds making it is the renewed demand to scrape the name of J. Edgar Hoover off the Bureau’s headquarters.

Washington Post columnist Colbert King brought this up several weeks ago, and last week his colleague Richard Cohen jumped into the anti-Hoover parade as well. ["Makeover for the FBI", The Washington Post,June 24] What their proposal ought to tell us is that they really have less interest in improving the FBI than in getting even with one of liberalism’s most hated enemies—and one of the greatest Americans of the last century.

The main charge against Hoover, you see, seems to be that he spied on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mr. Cohen even suggests we rename the FBI building after King himself. There are other charges against Hoover too —that he spied on Communists and the left and he didn’t respect civil liberties— but what Mr. Cohen and Co. really despise about Hoover is simply that he was never of their ideological crowd.

Among the specific charges Mr. Cohen hurls at the late FBI director are that “Hoover is the same guy—is he not? —who authorized the bugging of Martin Luther King’s hotel room (at the Willard) and the tapping of his telephone.” Well, not, as a matter of fact. As historian David Garrow made clear years ago in his book on King and the FBI, it was John and Robert Kennedy who authorized the FBI surveillance of King—because the “civil rights leader” was associating with known communists and because he even went so far as to lie to President Kennedy to his face about having broken his links with one of them.

Mr. Cohen coyly drags in yet another smear of Hoover—”I have said nothing,” he smirks, “about reports that Hoover occasionally wore a dress—a black, fluffy number, according to a biography of the former FBI director.” In the first place, crime historian Peter Maas refuted the smear about the dress years ago in a major article in The New Yorker. In the second place, is the progressive Mr. Cohen really some kind of “homophobe” who thinks men who cross-dress shouldn’t have buildings named after them? Or is “homophobia” OK when the target is a hated enemy of the left?

He also claims Hoover “for a long time … insisted [the Mafia] didn’t exist.” This seems to be yet another lie. I have read two major biographies of Hoover, (by Richard Gid Powers and Curt Gentry) and nowhere can I find a statement that the Mafia didn’t exist. It’s true the FBI didn’t pursue organized crime very much under Hoover—for one thing, most organized crime (gambling, prostitution, extortion) is local and state crime, and the FBI doesn’t have jurisdiction, or else it’s the kind of crime (bootlegging, drugs) for which there are special federal agencies (Treasury, the Narcotics Bureau).

J. Edgar Hoover certainly had his flaws. He was actually less alert to the threat of Soviet espionage than he should have been, and he was perhaps too quick to order the Bureau to hound down opponents of the Kennedy-Johnson “civil rights” agenda in the 1960s. He became too old for the job he created, and he should have retired years before his death in 1972.

But Hoover built the FBI up being from a crooked little broom closet in the 1920s to what became—under him—the best law enforcement and counter-espionage agency in the world, an agency that won the hatred of the criminals and traitors it busted as well as of those who befriended them in the media, and he ran it with an iron discipline that has long since vanished. So has the Bureau’s reputation for the competence and integrity that Hoover’s discipline created.

No doubt in the New America that people like Mr. Cohen want to concoct, Hoover’s name will disappear, along with the Confederate flag and the American flag and the national anthem and every other symbol and icon of the Old America that people like Mr. Cohen want to destroy. But it will be a while before the New America is able to produce another J. Edgar Hoover; Martin Luther King may well be the best it can ever come up with.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Martin Luther King 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”