On King's Birthday, the Fight Goes On

January 15, 1995|By CARL O. SNOWDEN

Will Governor Glendening attack racism in the state or concentrate on crime, balanced budgets and welfare reform?

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Dr. King is one of those leaders who come once in a millennium. He was the embodiment of the spirit of a great social movement that took the nation on a journey. Dr. King went from Montgomery to Memphis and in 13 years changed the course of our nation. He was a great moral leader and the celebration of his birthday is an annual renewal of our commitment to continue our fight for social justice.

On Wednesday, Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening will give his inaugural address. Will he talk about the issues that Dr. King gave his life for? Will he talk about the need to fret out racism in state government that the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus has said is prevalent and widespread? Will he commit the Glendening administration to aggressively implementing affirmative action and equal opportunity programs? Or will his moral compass be attuned to the next election and not the next generation?

Last October, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in front of the State House in Annapolis. We organized more than 1,000 anti-Klan protesters. Joining us in this march and rally was Mr. Glendening, then a candidate, and a handful of elected officials. Mr. Glendening's remarks were well received by his audience at the First Baptist Church in Annapolis on that day. Mr. Glendening talked about the need to fight against the bigots. He talked about the need for the government to take the lead against racism. He received a standing ovation.

It was the first and last time that I heard any mention about racism in the campaign for governor. The sad truth is that the issue of racial discrimination was never debated. Racism, sexism and bigotry took a back seat to tax cuts, crime and welfare reform. Maryland's election was similar to other elections around the nation. Social justice and civil rights issues were placed on the back burner. Many are predicting that Maryland, like the nation, will move sharply to the right.

Racism is still the most pressing and systemic issue that America faces. Balanced budgets cannot replace misguided priorities. The racial disparities are being exacerbated by elected officials unwilling to address this issue.

Dr. King understood that timid supplication for justice will not do. Mr. Glendening will have an opportunity during his inaugural address to take Maryland in a new direction. He will be able to do through his deeds and words what he could not do as a candidate. He will be able to use the power of the governor's office to implement Dr. King's legacy. He can strengthen through executive orders the state equal opportunity programs; through his appointments, he can weed out discriminatory practices in state government. As governor, he can introduce legislation that will ensure that African-American business and others are allowed to fairly participate in the state's procurement programs.

I, like most Marylanders, will listen to Mr. Glendening's speech on Wednesday, hoping to hear him say: "I too have a dream; it is a dream that is embodied in Dr. King's dream and here is what I will do in the first 100 days of my administration to honor the legacy of Dr. King. . . ."

To do that, Mr. Glendening must be willing to go against the right-wing trend that has engulfed the nation. Here is what I believe that Dr. King would have said to Mr. Glendening on the eve of his inaugural address had he lived:

On some positions cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" Vanity asks the question, "Is it popular?" But conscience asks the question, "Is it right?" There comes a time when you must take a stand that is neither safe, politic nor popular. You must take that stand because it is right!

Indeed, Dr. King was the moral conscience of his nation. Is the legacy of Dr. King strong enough to influence public policy today? We shall see.

A Luta Continua, the struggle for justice continues.

Carl O. Snowden is an alderman on the Annapolis City Council.

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