Monday, January 18, 2010

Remembering Martin Luther King

It is strangely ironic to reflect that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Jeffersonian.

The dark side of Jefferson, of course, is that he was a slaveholder. Even though he personally supported the abolition of slavery, his own lifestyle was made possible only by the labor of the human beings he owned. Like most white Americans during his time and for a century afterwards, Jefferson was a blatant racist by any modern standard. For many, these facts alone is sufficient to cast Jefferson and his ideals into the dustbin of history.

It's often difficult to look past the failings of Jefferson the man in order to embrace the ideals of Jefferson the visionary. But Martin Luther King was able to do so. He respected Jefferson very highly and it's no surprise that he quoted the Declaration of Independence in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. At a very fundamental level, the vision of Jefferson and the dream of King fuse together, each embracing and absorbing the other.

It's worth remembering that this blog is about 21st Century Jeffersonianism, not 18th Century Jeffersonianism. We are not simply picking up Jefferson's ideas and trying to transplant them to our own time; we are also adapting and modifying them in the context of all that has happened since Jefferson's death in 1826. Had Jefferson been able to see the unfolding of American history, being the rational man of the Enlightenment that he was, he would certainly have changed his views on the subject of race. In our mind's eye, we can see Jefferson marching with King on the Mall in Washington on that day in 1963.

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