Monday, January 18, 2016

How sincere are MLK birthday tributes? Can we tell it from the song?

No matter what was said or done on Friday, Monday is the birthday celebration of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know in my case, my duties as a reporter-type person for suburban newspapers will have me in Gary, Ind., on this day to cover that Hoosier city’s efforts to pay tribute to the man who has already been gone from this earth (48 years) longer than he was alive (only 39 when shot to death in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968).

BUT WE IN Chicago got to see the official celebration on Friday. Or should I say celebrations?

Because there were those activist types who decided to boycott the city’s official tribute because Mayor Rahm Emanuel would have been part of it. And in light of the contempt they feel for him due to police handling of cases involving the slaying of black men by police officers, they don’t want to do anything that would even remotely dignify him.

Some of them actually took part in their own celebration on Friday – one put together in part by the Chicago Teachers Union leadership.

Those people, of course, are the ones frustrated by the political hardball being played by the mayor toward negotiating a new contract – and one that could result in layoffs in coming weeks.

SO ON THIS day in which we’re supposed to pay tribute to the memory of Dr. King and the concept of equal rights for all people regardless of race, it seems we’re more interested in seeing who can take the biggest pot shot at Rahm Emanuel.

I’m sure some will argue that Dr. King would have been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement if he were still alive today – and competent at age 86, which is what he would be now.

But seeing the concept of a King Day holiday being turned into an excuse for petty politicking is something I find shameful – and not just by those who are boycotting the event because they don’t want to make Emanuel look good.

This year's King Day more about Emanuel
I have no doubt in my mind that Emanuel was counting on being able to stand aside all those black leaders and activists who have been bashing him because of the lack of prompt prosecution over the death of Laquan McDonald and other young black men in recent years.

HE WANTED THAT moment of glory being in King’s shadow and was more than willing to use the holiday to score cheap political points for himself.

I’m sure he would have even tried stumbling through the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” hoping he didn’t sound too ridiculous and off-key in singing the song most commonly referred to these days as the black American national anthem.”

In fact, that song is actually one of the informal keys I use to determine the legitimacy of any particular King Day celebration. The better and more sincere the performance, the more legitimate and sincere is the group about paying tribute to King’s memory.

And as for those celebrations that don’t even bother including it, well they’re most likely just a batch of civil rights pretenders – they want credit for favoring the concept, but often don’t truly get it.

OR MAYBE THEY’RE just like one editor I had back in the days when I worked at the now-defunct City News Bureau who, when I asked for the proper name of the song, claimed to have never heard of any “black national anthem” and doubted there even was such a song.

Which I had heard just an hour before being performed by inmates at Cook County Jail who were led in it by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

All of this has me curious to know how great a rendition I’ll hear Monday in Gary, Ind. I think I made a mistake of looking up the song for video snippets on You Tube.

Because after seeing the great Aretha Franklin perform it, anyone else is going to sound downright lame by comparison.


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