Sunday, August 24, 2008

Convention or internment camp -- and other weirdness from the city of Denver

I teach part-time at the University of Colorado Denver, which happens to be located directly across from the Pepsi Center, home of the nightly doings of the 2008 Democratic Convention. The campus, which hosts several other public institutions of higher education, has been closed for the week, locked down for the duration of the DNC. As of Friday, workers were busy putting up chain link fences that turned the campus into a maze.

I know. Security matters. But downtown Denver is beginning to show signs you'd expect to see in a Third World country immediately after a coup. Clusters of heavily armed cops are all over the place, an image that I have difficulty reconciling with the free exchange of ideas, but, hey, safety first, as they used to tell us as kids.

I'm driving west on Alameda Avenue, headed for a Sunday dim sum brunch. On the North side of the road, I see a billboard that boasts a picture of Martin Luther King and these words, "Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican." My first reaction: "Yeah, and Herman Goring played mahjong at Hadasah meetings." For more on this whacked out assertion, checkout this two-year-old story from The Washington Post.

Look, I'm not equating the GOP with Hitler's minions, just registering my surprise at an ad that clearly belies a fundamental truth: Most black Americans vote Democratic and so apparently did King.

Here's a sample from the Washington Post article: "In 1960, King was arrested for trespassing during a sit-in and held in Georgia's Reidsville prison. Fearing for his son's life, Martin Luther King Sr. appealed to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to secure his release. When King was freed, his father vowed to deliver 10 million votes to the Democrat, even though Kennedy was only a reluctant supporter of civil rights. That began four decades of black people voting for liberals. The younger King voted for Kennedy, and for Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson four years later. In that election, King publicly denounced the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater."

Sponsored by the National Black Republican Association, the ad evidently refers to a time when black party preferences were prompted by segregationist views of southern Dixiecrats. Pre-1965 and passage of the National Voting Rights Act, what exactly did party affiliation mean for Black Americans in the South anyway? Jim Crow laws often made it difficult or impossible for blacks to vote. For a more current story on the billboard, try this link to therawstory.

p.s. The Association's Web site claims that 50 such billboards have been placed around Denver to remind people that Obama is no MLK. Why? Probably because Obama's acceptance speech will coincide with the anniversary of Dr. King's fabled 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Is Obama capitalizing on history? Sure, but that doesn't mean he -- or anyone else -- thinks he's Martin Luther King Jr. It does, however, honor the fact that Obama is a beneficiary of King's struggles and the work of many others, as are all Americans.

Besides, even if Dr. King did at one time belong to the Republican Party, his membership would rank as one of the least important things you could say about him.

Note: The photo you see with this article appeared on the Web; it was not taken in Denver, but the billboard is the same.

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