Horowitz, King, and History (fwd)

John Campbell McMillian (jcm67@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Fri, 20 Nov 1998 11:32:26 -0500 (EST)


Horowitz is embarassingly naive when he tries to reflect upon the craft
of the historian. History is constantly being re-written.
Simply put, this is what historians do. Sometimes this is for the better,
and other times, revisionist history is problematic. But it is clear
that in most instances, a measure of distance and critical detachment
from ones subject helps to promote good historical writing. I dare say
that the emerging scholars of my generation, who were not even born in the
1960s, will do a much better job of recording the history of this period
than angry critics like Horowitz, who has apparently made it one
of his life's goals to denounce the entire decade.

One reason for this is that we will base our claims in actual
historical sources. Instead of merely reflecting upon our own past
experiences, we will spend our time in archives, going through
manuscript and oral history collections, underground newspapers, FBI
records, and so forth. And if we succeed, we will have supported our
claims through an analysis of carefully marshalled evidence.

With regards to Martin Luther King, Horowitz has done none of these
things. Rather than responding to the specifics of my post, which
outlined the clear trajectory of King's thought (as expressed in King's
own writings and interviews), he has merely reasserted his groundless
claim that King would have opposed affirmative action. But an argument
like this does not gather greater force or credibility simply through
repetition. If Horowitz is to defend his position, he's going to have to
do more than simply run his mouth. If he sees "no evidence in any of [the
quotes I cited] that King supported racial preferences," then he'll have
to explain how and why this is the case. [Note, however, that the
discussion has always been on where King WOULD stand on this position,
were he still alive. As a previous writer just noted, "affirmative
action" was not part of the public discourse in King's era]. As
any undergraduate writing instructor would say, "where's your evidence?"

Moreover, before Horowitz repeats his suggestions that Martin Luther King
was essentially a "conservative" (NY PRESS, early October), and that there
is "not an honest soul who participated in the civil rights movement of
the 1960s who will claim that we were supporting anything but a
color-blind society," he should take a look at a recently released
compilation from Clayborne Carson, _The "Autobiography" of Martin
Luther King, Jr._ Through the presentation of King's own writings, Carson
shows that even as a young man, King had already begun thinking in terms
of fundamental economic change. It more or less begins with a letter that
King wrote to Coretta in 1952 (at age 23), wherein he states: "I imagine
you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory
than captialistic." And of course it ends in Memphis, Tennessess, where
King spent his last days on the side of striking garbage men.

Best to all,

John McMillian