18 April, 2010

A Memorial to Martin Luther King

Last week, I received an email informing me about a project to build a memorial to Martin Luther King in Washington DC, and asking me if I might spread the word by writing about it here. I was intrigued, but due to a busy week, promptly forgot about it. After all, when you make an email address available on a public website, you never know who is going to write. Then this week, I received a follow-up message to check that I had received the first message and to remind me of what a worthy cause it is. This told me the people behind it were real and taking a genuine interest. I was flattered that they considered my support worth having and sharing with my veritable dozen or so readers, but I still had misgivings.

Although I will talk long and loud about American politics, and have explained why, I try hard never to be prescriptive. It’s really no skin off my nose if America wants to keep a health system that is less equitable than that of many developing nations. But since the discussion is being had, I’ve had national public health cover all my life and if I lived in a communist nightmare, or if my family had been butchered by substandard treatment, or if I were crippled by taxes, I think I might have noticed.

Whatever I’m writing about, I’m only ever writing about what I think, not what anyone else necessarily should think, so I’m uncomfortable about explicitly promoting anything. Since I’m not a US citizen, I have no right to promote such an idea. I certainly have nothing against the plan, but it's not my place to say any more.

Obviously, Martin Luther King was a great man. He is surely the most respected and admired American never to have held either a political office or military rank. He is one of only three people to have a federal holiday in his honour, the others being George Washington and Christopher Columbus. It’s right that he should be memorialised and commemorated, especially now that people are beginning to lose historical perspective and some are co-opting King’s words as a fig-leaf to disguise their own latent racism. But it’s not for me to say how he should be remembered. There is a tendency to memorialise people ad infinitum with statues, coins, stamps, airports, parks, bridges, sporting grounds.... to the point where the person’s legacy ends up being almost trivialised rather than honoured. It’s a terribly unworthy analogy, but as far as I can tell, everything in Footscray is named after Ted Whitten and he was just a football player.

These are the misgivings I was going to mention to my correspondent as my reasons for respectfully declining his invitation. But then I thought, what harm can it do? Everything I was going to mention to him, I can mention to you too, as I have. So while I'm not qualified to explicitly promote the idea, here, for your consideration, are the websites for the memorial if you would like more information:

1 comment:

  1. Unless I'm wrong all the memorials in Washington are for presidents and soldiers of wars. There's nothing for civilians. But there are lots of other things named after people and I think he has a library.