Blogs > Cliopatria > Things Noted Here and There

Jan 23, 2006 6:19 am

Things Noted Here and There

To all the right-wingers who were celebrating Martin Luther King last week and have spent this week bashing Harry Belafonte: your domesticated version of MLK isn't the man I remember and have written about. It isn't even the sanitized version of King that has become the national icon. King's close friend, Harry Belafonte, has said nothing in recent months about the Bush administration or the war in the middle east that King did not say about the Johnson administration and its prosecution of the war in Viet Nam.

Margaret Soltan at University Diaries spots two pieces worthy of note: 1) a disaster of an op-ed by Susan Estrich about the Bruin Alumni Association bru-ha-ha. One of her hard and fast rules, says Estrich, is that"Nothing said in the classroom leaves the classroom." The best teaching I've ever seen was great precisely when that rule was violated. Conversation and debate was so engaging that it spilled out of the classroom and continued in the dorms and campus coffee shops. How can we hope to create the possibility of a life of the mind for students if we demand that"nothing said in the classroom leaves the classroom"? The other piece, by a Northwestern undergraduate, criticizes moves in the other direction. In the name of student convenience, the use of" course-casting" puts the nail in the classroom's head. A very bad idea. When you think about the two pieces together, you have to wonder if there's not some serious loss of the notion that a class session is the point of an immediate intellectual engagement among a teacher and her students; and that it's a contagious, collective experience. If so, that's just pitiful.

Some form of madness has struck administrators at the University of Florida. So, what else do you need to know? How often? Where? What positions? With or without protection? Was it mutually satisfying?

Finally, Scott McLemee has a conversation with Anna, IKEA USA's Online Assistant. Somehow, his end of it seems the more intelligent.

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Ralph E. Luker - 1/27/2006

Actually, I think that you've raised perfectly legitimate reservations about what I said. My problem with the folks who I addressed is actually two-fold: 1) the King that they wish to appropriate and celebrate is a highly sanitized version of King, one that largely ignores the radicality of his claims in the years after 1964; and 2) Belafonte was King's close friend and his charges are both closer to claims that King made in his lifetime and closer to the truth than any of Belafonte's critics on the right have been willing to admit.

Col Steve J - 1/26/2006

I'm not here to defend Hoover or his tactics. Your original post stated:

Harry Belafonte, has said nothing in recent months about the Bush administration or the war in the middle east that King did not say about the Johnson administration

I'm not a historian. I would think. though, that historians would be very sensitive to saying "this" (Belafonte's comments) is like "that" (King's comments) because usually "this" is not at all like "that." Such comparisons are sensitive to the historical context -and the default is more to uniqueness than commonality.

I've merely tried to question whether those folks who criticize Belafonte (and not just for partisan reasons - someone like Ed Koch for example) have a point and the historical accuracy of your comparison.

I had this discussion on historical comparisons briefly with Jonathan on another site. Because we in general hold Dr. King in high regard, making the claim Belafonte's statements are comparable with Dr. King confers credibility to Belafonte's words. Who would argue (unless it's because I'm a Bush partisan) Belafonte is wrong if he's saying *nothing* different than Dr. King did against Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson?

Ralph E. Luker - 1/26/2006

And would you like to offer your own assessment of J. Edgar Hoover's surveillance of Dr. King and its use of the tapes to humiliate him or edge him to suicide? That's a little sophisticated for the "gestopo," I admit, but it isn't exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind, either.

Col Steve J - 1/25/2006

Thank you for answering my question. I must admit I'm not buying what you're selling though.

I agree about "terrorist" not being part of that period's lexicon. The same point does not apply to "tyrant" though.

In making the speech you reference, Dr. King made it clear the NVN government and NLF were not paragons of virtue either. Belafonte made his claims in Caracas and added "millions of the American people ... support your revolution."

Dr. King makes clear one reason to oppose the war is the impact on the domestic war on poverty. Belafonte offers no such rationale - it's a decidedly *personal* attack.

Dr. King never calls out a specific name. True, by inference, the President is part of the criticism. One could also infer Congress (who has constitutional authority for creating the Armed forces and allowed Johnson to have a draft as opposed to mobilizing the NG). However, by shaming the nation, he avoids part of the blacklash from intensely personalizing the criticism.

For brevity, I'll stop here except to add Belafonte also equated the DHS with the Gestapo. Care to take on that historical analogy?

Barry DeCicco - 1/25/2006

It's amazing how right-wingers really get off on hating Chavez. He's a democratically-elected (twice?) president of a country. He's behaved far better than many US-supported Latin American leaders, so it can't be any abuses of power. It can only be that he's not obedient to the US.

David T. Beito - 1/24/2006


All good points.....though I wonder if King would have been so uncritical of a low-life like Chavez.

chris l pettit - 1/24/2006

Let me tell you from being there for law school, a masters degree, a fellowship, etc...this comes as no surprise to those of us used to dealing with the administration. I was speaking to a colleague and fellow fellow (haha) currently working for the World Bank the other day about this issue and we had a good laugh about it.

I should tell you the one about how Free Cuba radicals are brought in to teach because of pressure put on the board of regents...a great example of KC's "ideological diversity"...


Ralph E. Luker - 1/24/2006

Good question, Colonel. The word "terrorist" was not so much in our vocabulary in the years of Dr. King's life as it is now, so I suspect that neither you nor I will find anywhere in his surviving texts a reference to anyone as a "terrorist." If you read his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, however, it is quite clear that he refers to the United States as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world in which he lived. The violence to which he referred was commanded by President Johnson. They were deeply alienated by then and, no doubt, "Beyond Vietnam" contributed to their further alienation. I have no doubt but that Harry Belafonte believes that he is continuing to speak out against violence generated by the United States, in part because Dr. King is not here to do so. In Dr. King's lifetime, the FBI conducted remarkable abuses of executive authority to intrude on King's life and the lives of many Americans. You and I might agree that J. Edgar Hoover, acting with the full knowledge of John and Robert Kennedy, conducted surveillances that were tyrannical in character. Revelations of those abuses led to reforms in the years after King's death. We are only now learning of how much the President has acted to roll back those reforms -- refusing even to get authorization to do so from the special court that the Congress authorized to grant such authority. Unchecked executive power is tyranny, Colonel.

Col Steve J - 1/24/2006

Ok. I'll bite. I haven't read all of Dr. King's words. I did read his Declaration of Independence from the War In Vietnam. While that speech is brutally critical, King does not refer to the President as "the greatest tyrant in the world" and "the greatest terrorist in the world" as Belafonte has done.

Perhaps you might enlighten me to when Dr. King labeled Kennedy or Johnson with similar titles?

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/23/2006

Actually, the affirmation of sex requirement makes a kind of sense. Historically, it is sex and procreation and the complications arising from the twain that distinguish marriage from just being a form of partnership.

Also, it makes sense for organizations that offer benefits to separate in some manner committed relationships from others. (Of course, legalized gay marriage or civil unions would be a less messy way to do this.)

That doesn't mean that it's not intrusive as hell. It is.

Robert KC Johnson - 1/23/2006

Amazing piece.

"Balance is not the issue here. Freedom and open discussion are." Yet "freedom and open discussion" means that there can be no discussion of what the professor said in class once the class ends?

And I'm fascinated by this statement: "Professors who can’t keep their politics out of the classroom need to be addressed by the administration." Are the professors supposed to self-report themselves to the administration, saying they can't keep their politics out of their classes?

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