The University Record, January 24, 2000

Hutchinson: We need to ‘act on our own vision of the future’

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

“Martin Luther King Day is not a holiday just for Blacks—it’s for everyone,” declared Earl Ofari Hutchinson, social critic, TV commentator and prolific author of books that trace the social history of African Americans.

Hutchinson’s presentation in the Michigan Union Ballroom on the general topic of “MLK and the Future of Ethnic Relations in the 21st Century” was cast in terms, as he put it, of the “eternal legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Passage of time can create myths and misrepresentations, Hutchinson said. Referring to the myth that MLK Day is a Black holiday, he told of participating recently in a “week-in-review” program on a Los Angeles television station. The host and guests agreed beforehand to say something about King during the program without designating which of them would speak. When it came time to do so “the host looked to me as if, because I was Black, I would naturally be the one to talk about Martin. Well, I did, but then none of them joined in. They just sat there. These were presumably educated people, but they had obviously bought into the myth that the holiday wasn’t for everybody,” Hutchinson recounted.

“Martin Luther King was not simply a Black leader, he was a civil rights leader. His efforts led to opening doors for everyone in this country, and his non-violent philosophy has been the inspiration for other leaders like Nelson Mandela.”

Another myth, Hutchinson said, is that King was basically a reactionary who was focused on righting past wrongs. “In fact, back then some of us did think of him as a relic of the past. But then came his 1967 speech at Riverside Church on ‘Why I Oppose the Vietnam War,’ what I now consider his greatest speech. Its result was to alienate him from his political supporters and many civil rights leaders. He literally became a pariah,” Hutchinson said. “What he did was stir up a complex revolution and he was hated for it then,” he added.

The third myth Hutchinson challenged was that the 1963 March on Washington—where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech—was only about jobs. “It was about freedom, too,” Hutchinson said, “and jobs weren’t just about money but about human dignity. Unfortunately, the exhortation to young Blacks by many of the movement’s leaders to get an education and get a piece of the ‘American Dream’ has led to a Black middle class, many of whom have forgotten where they came from.”

Hutchinson also looked at the future of ethnic relationships in this country. He pointed out that race relations for King and other civil rights leaders were seen by them primarily in terms of black and white. “With the changes that have occurred in the decades since, the target for change is much more complex. We now live in a deeply class-defined society in which the needs of the poor and the working classes, along with many who have simply fallen through the cracks, are not being adequately addressed by our society,” Hutchinson said.

Despite the immense difficulty of addressing this critical class question, Hutchinson said he is hopeful. “I see an awareness and a consciousness of, and a commitment to carrying on with the struggle. What we each can do is act on our own vision of the future however we can,” he said.

The Library, School of Information and Information Technology Division sponsored the program.