The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 89 Monday, the odd occasion that his birthday actually falls on the day Americans set aside to celebrate his victories and the road map he left to ensure the fight for civil rights did not end with his demise.
It’s also been almost 50 years since his April assassination, the anniversary of that tragic day in Memphis when the hope he inspired – hope for equality, fuller lives and a better way forward – became too much for hatemongers to bear.
Given these milestones, Monday should be about King, and his calls for peace, service and an egalitarian society that didn’t judge people on their skin color or from which country they hail.
Alas, the words of President Donald Trump loom over the civil rights icon’s day.
Though Trump denies using the word “shithole” in describing Haiti, El Salvador and the 54 nations that compose Africa, this is not the first occasion he’s been accused of bigotry. Trump has conceded using harsh words, but he has not responded to reports that he said he’d prefer America’s immigrants come from majority white countries such as Norway.
No matter the President’s exact words, the sentiment seems to fall short of the standard by which King said America’s greatness would truly be graded: that one day his own children would live in a nation where they would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Here is how Trump’s words are being discussed in the context of Monday’s celebrations:
“We are one world. We are one people. We are one humanity. We are one destiny. And we are, in fact, one blood, for He, meaning God, has made from one blood all nations, for to dwell on the face of the Earth we are one and so our collective voice in this hour must always be louder than the voice of one who may speak sometimes representing these United States, whose words sometimes do not reflect that legacy of my father, who was a patriarch but also a citizen of the world. In light of the current state of affairs, we must understand that our collective voice is more important now than ever before.”
“It is important that we understand in this very hour that it is critical that we not allow ourselves to become more polarized and more divided because we don’t all think alike, because we don’t all even like each other. There is always, or most times, some truth in even those we may disagree with. We’ve been called in this season to bridge a divide. I may not 100% agree with you, but I have to open my heart, and I have to open my mind to at least consider hearing you, because in hearing you I might hear something that I’ve never heard before and I might learn something that I’ve never learned before. But more importantly, I will discover that you are no different than I am.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton
“The issue is not what (Trump) said. It’s what he’s doing. They’re not debating (what) the policy is going to be, that they exclude people from Africa and Haiti. They’re just arguing about whether he cussed them. If I was walking down the stairs here in the ballroom and you pushed me down the stairs, the argument is not whether you called me the n-word on the way down. The argument is you pushed me down the stairs.”
“On King Day, we’re going to stand up to Trump without becoming like Trump. We’re not going to call him names, but we’re not going to allow the policies to go unaccounted for.”
Martin Luther King III
“These are evil days when they deny today’s immigrants of color the same rights of white immigrants. These are evil days when they see the breakup of families with needless and heartless rationales that is tantamount to political expediency. These are evil days when the President of the United States doesn’t seem to understand that Africa is a continent, not a state, and he refers to countries such as Nigeria and Haiti and El Salvador as – y’all know that word. I don’t talk like that. Y’all know what he said.”
“We’ve got to find a way to work on this man’s heart. Think about it. (Former Alabama Gov.) George Wallace was a staunch racist, and we worked on his heart and ultimately George Wallace transformed, so don’t tell me we can’t transform. We’ve done it too many times. We’re not working hard enough.”
Activist and radio host Joe Madison
“My favorite quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is when he said that the most dangerous things on the planet (are) sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“I close by saying to Donald Trump, if he’s listening, let the message go out loud and clear that God created the Earth and he did not create any s-holes, not on the continent of Africa, not in the Caribbean. If any s-holes were created, it’s because man messed it up, and God is going to fix it.”