If anyone from the last 65 years deserves a monument on the Mall, it's Dr. Martin Luther King, and I'm happy he has one (even though this monument looks too much like a Soviet war memorial for my taste). However, I've always wondered if all our monuments to him are a way of avoiding, or even forgetting, the imperatives of his legacy. Cornel West certainly thinks so, and says so very bluntly in an essay today in the NY Times.
King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced. Our greatest writer, Herman Melville, who spent his life in love with America even as he was our most fierce critic of the myth of American exceptionalism, noted, “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial.”
King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.