No Hero of Convenience

Vincent Harding has written a passionate and disturbing book. In a collection of eight essays (seven previously published, one delivered as a lecture), he addresses what he calls our national amnesia-a determination to forget or ignore Martin Luther King's demands for a radical restructuring of American society. In our amnesia, "we have frozen the frame of the smiling, victorious hero, locked in the magnificent voice proclaiming the compelling dream."

Harding, professor of religion and social transformation at Iliff School of Theology, reminds us that a selective memory that focuses primarily on the images of the 1963 March on Washington allows us conveniently to ignore the issues King addressed in the last two or three years of his life-what King called the triple threat to the future of American society: racism, militarism, and materialism. And with such a collective forgetting, we can avoid facing the implication of King's call for a renewal of America.

But, says Harding, King is an inconvenient hero. "For those who seek a gentle, non-abrasive hero whose recorded speeches can be used as inspirational resources for rocking our memories to sleep, Martin Luther King, Jr., is surely the wrong man." Harding implores us to replace the media-devised sentimental memories of King with memories of the radical King, the King of the "Beyond Vietnam" speech of 1967, and the King who called for an end to poverty at home and abroad through the reordering of America's values and a withdrawal from our imperialistic designs around the world.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1996
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