Wrong history

In his column last week, Kevin Lyons chastised the civil rights movement on this, the 30th anniversary of its March on Washington, for its loss of focus. In Kevin’s narrow world view, the success of the movement and the power of the 1963 march were in large part due to the movement’s Christian foundations, based on “thing above,” as Kevin puts it. To suggest the civil rights movement was solely a Christian movement does a great disservice to individuals of many faiths who worked for the cause. Furthermore, Kevin suggests that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned civil rights narrowly, but now that movement is confused because it has tossed “every conceivable liberal cause into the works.” Kevin is rewriting history to support his narrow ideology. The movement as Kevin recalls it never existed.

Dr. King did not see civil rights as a static orthodoxy. In his own lifetime Dr. King’s focus broadened to include other issues of human rights including economic inequality and world peace. He realized that human rights is an expansive movement which brings together “all of God’s children.” For Kevin, however, Dr. King’s dream has been “diluted” by the movement’s espousal of the aspirations of other groups fighting for their human rights.

The civil rights movement has not lost its focus by embracing the rights of women to make their own reproductive choices and the rights of gay men and lesbians to live free of discrimination. From the beginning, the movement to which Dr. King gave his life has increasingly embraced the aspirations of all who are oppressed. It never had the narrow focus Kevin attributes to it. Does Kevin realize that one of the chief organizers of the 1963 march, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay African-American, whose efforts were celebrated in the march two weekends ago? The civil rights movement has not lost its focus. If anything, it has dedicated itself more completely to human rights for all. It is ironic that Kevin is telling the NAACP and others of the civil rights movement to get back to their Christian roots. I would have thought that the great Christian teachings of universal love and human dignity are the very essence of today’s evolving civil rights movement.

Norden S. Gilbert

Associate legal counsel