Foes of holiday for King might offer greater honor

February 20, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

CHANNEL 13's Marty Bass -- meteorologist, broadcast journalist.

And racist?

That's what a caller to The Sun implied. He didn't say it outright. He used one of the now famous euphemisms. Bass, the caller charged, uttered a remark that was "disrespectful" to black folks.

The alleged "offense" occurred a couple of weeks back, when the Carroll County school board voted to have students attend school on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Presidents Day. According to the caller, Don Scott of the morning show read the news, and Bass yelled out, "Yahoo! All they do is spend the day at the malls anyway."

The caller automatically assumed the "they" were black people.

"We do more than go to the malls on that day," he fumed, adding that many blacks spend the day commemorating King in many ways.

The caller was right about the latter point but totally wrong about his initial premise.

"I meant kids," Bass said when asked who the "they" was he was referring to. "Any kid. It doesn't matter where they live."

For the past few weeks, you've heard the snide references to those of us who believe students should be in school on MLK day: The best that's been said is that we're "racially insensitive" -- that's another euphemism, meaning that our views on racial matters are only a tad to the left of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany's propaganda minister. The worse implication is that we're cruel, heartless, single-digit-IQ varmints who would have gladly rooted for the lions to eat the Christians had we lived in ancient Rome. The notion that some of us may admire or revere King is one incapable of entering our critics' minds.

"Martin Luther King was one of my personal heroes," Bass continued. "Losing him was one of the top five tragedies of this century. This man put himself in harm's way, and not for another day for kids to goof off."

Well, it seems those of us who want our children in school on MLK day might not be so insensitive after all. We just have a better sense of proportion. Martin Luther King Jr. leads the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and spends time in jail for it. Later extremists -- incensed by his civil rights activities -- bomb his home in Birmingham. King tells a crowd of outraged blacks seeking revenge to go home and use their anger constructively.

Later, King is hit by a bottle while leading a demonstration in a Chicago suburb.

"I've been hit so many times I'm immune to it," King quips to journalists covering the march. In 1968, King "put himself in harm's way" yet again, when he went to Memphis, Tenn., to support striking sanitation workers. It was in Memphis that he was assassinated.

King made the sacrifice, we get the day off. There's something wrong with that. If King made a great sacrifice, the least the rest of us can do is make a minor one. Not only should our children be in school on MLK day, but their parents should be with them.

"As a parent, I thought that [keeping kids in school] was a hell of an idea," Bass said. Last year he sat his daughter, then 7, down in front of a computer and scrolled through King's speeches. Apparently, Bass had the curious notion that MLK day was specifically a day we should spend educating our children, especially about King and other civil rights figures.

"I started to tell her about Rosa Parks last year and figured that might be a little too much information for a 7-year-old," Bass continued. The lesson about Parks came this MLK day.

Who does this Bass guy think he is, advocating a holiday devoted to educating? Before you know it, folks will say MLK day should be used to teach the lessons of those other civil rights leaders and workers whose courage matched or even surpassed King's. What of Medgar Evers, traveling alone through the Mississippi backwoods to record the tales of black victims of racist violence? What of Kwame Toure -- known as Stokely Carmichael during the civil rights era -- who went into violent Lowndes County, Ala., to register blacks to vote armed only with organizational skills nothing short of brilliant? What of the women: Mississippi's Fannie Lou Hamer and Detroit's Viola Liuzzo?

Make MLK day like any other holiday, and we'll soon regret it.

"You know it's going to happen, and I know it's going to happen," Bass predicted. "Soon you're going to hear a radio commercial that goes, `I have a dream that one day everybody will drive a $17,000 Kia.' " Rather than see that happen, Bass asked what would be so wrong with having children spend half of MLK day in school and the other half doing what King would have loved to see them doing: performing community service.

It's an excellent suggestion, one that Carroll County's school board would have done well to implement. Instead, they wimped out to demonstrators who carried signs in front of school headquarters, pleading to make the King holiday just like all the other holidays: commercial, insipid and with no real meaning whatsoever.

Pub Date: 2/20/99

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