The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

January 20, 2013

King 'content of character' quote inspires debate

(Continued)

Clegg acknowledges that it can be difficult today for some people to resist jumping to conclusions based on skin color.

He says past discrimination resulted in fewer opportunities for African-Americans, which increased poverty, unemployment, and other social pathologies in the black community. "Then white people say, what did we tell you, that's the way these people are," Clegg says. "It's wrong, people shouldn't do it, but it's going to happen."

Yet as we discipline ourselves not to pre-judge African-Americans, Clegg says, we cannot forget that King asked us to judge character. That means taking actions such as reducing the high rate of black children born to unmarried parents and placing more value on education, he says.

"I don't think King would neglect the 'content of their character' side today," he says.

"You have to break the vicious cycle from both ends. People have to do their best not to use stereotypes, but at the same time, people have to not live up to them."

Some doubt we will ever be able to ignore what a person looks like.

"To ignore color is to ignore reality," says Lewis Baldwin, an Alabama native who marched in the civil rights movement and now teaches courses on King at Vanderbilt University.

"Dr. King understood that we all see we are different. You accept color differences, affirm them, celebrate them, but don't allow them to become a barrier to human community," said Baldwin, author of a new King book, "In A Single Garment of Destiny: A Global Vision of Justice."

Yet Martin Luther King III believes that one day we will be able to live every word of his father's dream.

"I think my father's vision was that we should at some point have a colorblind society," he says. "He always was challenging us to be the best nation we could be."

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