Buckley On MLK, 1987

The following editorial appeared in National Review in 1987. It`s unsigned, but on internal evidence (the word “detumesces, ” the expression “one is uneasy”) it was almost certainly written by William F. Buckley. That being the case, it`s more evidence that the Ron Paul Letters on MLK weren`t as far from mainstream conservatism as we`re being told.

Dr. King

National Review, February, 13, 1987

ALL NATIONAL HOLIDAYS have a ritualistic as well as a celebratory quality, and they are not accorded to people of mean achievement. When people celebrate George Washington or Columbus or the legendary St. Patrick, they are celebrating both achievement and themselves. And since we have been moving toward a sort of pluralistic “balanced ticket` in national Days, it may be good, on balance, to have a Martin Luther King Day. Some of his accomplishments were valuable. A black hero does belong in the calendar, reflecting the citizenship of blacks.

Of course, it has to stop somewhere. With any luck, the Hispanics will settle for Columbus, who, although an Italian, worked for Ferdinand and Isabella and led the way for the Spanish conquest of much of the New World.

And, sigh, the Women. Molly Pitcher Day? Emily Dickinson Day? Eleanor Roosevelt Day? Phyllis Schlafly Day? Yes, there are high times ahead.

Still and all, one is uneasy—and not only whites are uneasy—about the late Dr. King as a presumptive national hero.

Everyone knows that Parson Weems created a George Washington myth, the cherry tree and all the rest of it, and that Washington, a wealthy man to begin with, made of the Revolution a financial bonanza. And, in their various ways, our other heroes were also merely human.

But, until now, nothing like this.

The historian David Garrow, in two recent—and sympathetic—studies of Dr. King, gives copious documentation showing that King, a married man and an ordained minister, was a compulsive philanderer, and compulsive may be too weak a word. Professor Garrow also shows that King was closely and continuously associated with several men who were almost certainly Communists and, though warned about this by the Kennedy brothers, persisted.

In his protest against back-of-the-bus rules in Birmingham, King had a persuasive purity. His counsels of nonviolence were noble, as well as tactically sound. Many were moved by his oratorical skills. But something not so admirable seems to have happened to him along the road, just where and why is not so clear. During his final phase he moved far to the left, planned those Poor People`s Marches on Washington (which failed), and talked vaguely of revolution.

As one pursues with Professor Garrow the historical Martin Luther King—as contrasted with the mythical one—the gap between the two widens, and the famous Dream detumesces. One now feels that Martin Luther King Day represents affirmative action in the creation of national memorials. But let`s hang in there, and contribute to the disposal of the historical Dr. King down the memory hole.