Monday, January 16, 2012

Marking Martin Luther King Day, 2012

Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Amherst Regional Middle School Library

Massachusetts and the nation today marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In Boston, the annual celebration noted Reverend King's ties to the area, where he studied theology, and focused on the holiday as a day of service. Here in Amherst, the annual breakfast at the Middle School, now in its 28th year, honored local civil rights activist Mary Pittman Wyatt, who created the event and passed away last fall.

In the New York Times, a guest column by Oxford's Stephen Tuck recalls the international dimensions of King's movement and legacy. Paul Krugman notes that, although we have in many admirable ways overcome the old racial divides, we have not yet addressed the persistent income inequality, at least part of which is correlated with race:
Yet if King could see America now, I believe that he would be disappointed, and feel that his work was nowhere near done. He dreamed of a nation in which his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But what we actually became is a nation that judges people not by the color of their skin — or at least not as much as in the past — but by the size of their paychecks. And in America, more than in most other wealthy nations, the size of your paycheck is strongly correlated with the size of your father’s paycheck.

Goodbye Jim Crow, hello class system.
Clearly, we have much to celebrate, but marking the day as one of service, scholarship, and reflection—rather than mere lazing and shopping, to which level the holidays dedicated to those earlier liberators Washington and Lincoln have sunk—is a good way to remind ourselves that there is still much work to do.

The Martin Luther King stamp (artist: Jerry Pinkney) issued by the US Postal Service for Black History Month (Scott catalogue # 1771), issued in Atlanta on January 13, 1979, on the occasion of King's fiftieth birthday.This also corresponded to the legal code of the day, according to which only deceased individuals could be depicted on postal stamps, and not until ten years (subsequently relaxed to five) had elapsed since the time of death, the only exception being for presidents (one year).

The government recently and foolishly waived this utterly sensible proviso (1, 2, 3), thus eliminating a bedrock democratic principle in order to prostitute itself in the quixotic quest for greater revenues when it would have made greater sense to seek a more sustainable business model. (1, 2, 3)

Typically, attempts to reform and increase profitability of enterprises entail elimination of jobs, for which reason we would do well to remind ourselves that, historically, the public sector has been a key path into the middle class for African-Americans: not least, the Postal Service, in which they account for 25 percent of the workforce.

This past fall, the Postal Service issued a special souvenir cover to mark the dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall. The cover bears a cachet depicting his colossal portrait sculpture and the new Barbara Jordan stamp.

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