Ezy Reading: The Body of Work That Matters

Evan Kanarakis

It was disappointing in January around Martin Luther King Day to discover a resurgence of emails and commentaries floating about on the Internet about alleged instances of plagiarism committed by the civil rights activist during his lifetime. While such charges should never be taken lightly, what was most bothersome was that it seemed to me that the majority of those making the most noise about these allegations didn’t especially appear to be academic sticklers standing up out of principle for the other writers and theologians whose work King is said to have copied, but rather individuals merely seeking to diminish the message of the man.

Again, while not to make light of something like plagiarism if it did indeed occur with King, throughout history there have been plenty of notable persons whose own inconsistencies of character were still –and should largely be- ignored when considering the value of their mission and message in life. The ends do not justify the means, but we also need to consider the larger picture. The civil rights era ‘triumvirate’, if you will, of MLK, JFK and RFK were far, far from perfect individuals, but we should never lose sight of the fact that in the flurry of whispered talk about these men that invariably makes mention of things like dogmatic inflexibility, excessive ambition, secret deals, near ruthless removal of rivals, infidelity and, perhaps, plagiarism, the allegations are largely irrelevant of their overall body of work. Put plainly, flaws in character did not deter the men from the contributions they made to the civil rights movement and beyond, and the fact that they put their lives on the line –and each of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for their convictions- gives weight to this assertion.

As the world now turns its attention to pay tribute to the life of Coretta Scott King, a woman who knew intimately the best and the worst of Martin Luther King’s character, we recognise someone who truly understood the value of the message above all else. Yes, Coretta Scott King had her flaws. Yes, she could at times be so frank as to be perceived by some as tactless, and yes she drew criticism especially when it came to her handling of matters regarding her late husband’s estate. And yet she, just like her husband and other notables from the era including JFK, RFK, and the recently passed Rosa Parks were far more than just mere individuals; they represented a movement, and a spirit. When Coretta Scott King campaigned for the establishment of Martin Luther King Day, when she was vocal in her opposition to apartheid in the 1980’s, as an AIDS/HIV prevention activist and, more recently, in her criticism of the war in Iraq, her support for same sex marriage and hundreds of other causes she felt demanded attention and redress, Coretta was that movement, that spirit.

Perfection in individuals is impossible; this is for certain. That an individual can overcome their weaknesses and deficits of character to encourage and create the greater good is a life well lived, and one worthy of our respect and attention.

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Ezy Reading will be back on March 13th- we apologise for the break!