Obama and Dr. King
Michael Eric Dyson, named by Ebony as one of the hundred most influential black Americans, is the author of sixteen books, including Holler if You Hear Me, Is Bill Cosby Right? and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. He is currently University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Question Will death hover over Obama if he is elected President?
Michael Eric Dyson: I don’t think that death will hover over Barack Obama in the same way as it did with Dr. King. First of all, we’re 40 years beyond that. Even though the threat is real, there are still many elements, quarters, sections and peoples in this country, who would rather see a black man dead than see him embrace his divine destiny of being the leader of the free world. So there’s no question that there would be perhaps danger and harm in the offing but I tell black people who used to tell me that is their reason not to vote for Obama, “Don’t vote for him because you think Hillary Clinton is the superior candidate-- that’s a great reason--but not because you think he’s going to get killed.” I said, “Let Jesus and the Secret Service take care of that. If this man has said, ‘I’m going to run and I’m willing to take the risk,’ then think about it and let him take that risk,” because Martin Luther King Jr. knew every day he was going to die. He knew with a certainty that America would snuff him out. He sat next to his wife watching the funeral, which he was bitterly disappointed at not being invited to attend. He looked at that funeral on television with his wife and said, “This is what will happen to me. We live in a sick society.” Mrs. King said, “It’s not as if I could go up to him, sidle up next to him, grab his hand and go “Oh, no, Martin. You’re wrong.’ She said, “I believed it too. I believed it as well that he would be murdered.” So here is a man with a near certainty that he would die and yet he kept transforming the certainty of his death into something redemptive and powerful and uplifting. So in that sense I think that Dr. King in terms of his legacy was a man who really grappled with the deepest currents of American politics while at the same time making himself vulnerable. And unfortunately we’ve tended to deny the legitimate contributions that others have made because we compare and contrast them with Dr. King but also we lose sight of the incredible opportunity of investigating Dr. King’s life and figuring out why he meant so much and why he was willing to risk so much as a courageous figure in his own day and age.
Recorded on: May 16 2008
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