LENA MITCHELL: A great man’s messages are timeless about the human condition

By Lena Mitchell / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction… The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Strength to Love” (1963)
Monday’s commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is a fitting occasion to be reminded of his timeless words. Remembering Dr. King’s admonitions is particularly timely in the wake of recent events.
Although the mass shootings last weekend in Arizona must not be overlooked because of the extremist, malignant way the shooter chose to express his anger, that is not the subject I want to address here.
Instead, I want to respond to the racial rewriting of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” in the new publication of an old classic and Gov. Haley Barbour’s careless remarks about the segregation era.
When it publishes a new edition of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” NewSouth Books plans to remove the word “nigger” and replace it with the word “slave.”
Many who have criticized the decision have complained about the need for “political correctness.”
I, too, disagree with the publisher’s decision, but it has nothing to do with political correctness. Rather, it is the fear that removing the word will sanitize or revise history, as the governor did with his remarks.
When the term “politically correct” was coined, it was promulgated and made popular by people who wanted to be openly and forgivably objectionable about other people.
I maintain that what others term political correctness is simply adhering to basic rules for human interaction, speaking to and about people with respect and civility. There’s no shame in self-censoring one’s speech and using ethnically sensitive and gender-sensitive terms.
However, my disagreement with the publisher’s desire to change Mark Twain’s original wording has more to do with a quote from philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The N-word as a slur toward black people isn’t simply a part of our past, it’s also part of our present and, unfortunately, part of our future.
Less than two weeks ago, as a group of us left a church meeting one evening and walked toward our cars, a pickup truck drove past the church and someone yelled from out of the truck’s window, “Niggers!”
A few days later I covered a meeting of the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors. They – as was their legal duty – approved a request from the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a Klan Rally on the courthouse grounds on March 26, 2011.
Yes, it’s 2011, but some things haven’t changed.
As Dr. King told a Wall Street Journal reporter in 1962, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
We can’t control what anyone thinks about us. All we can do is try to live a fulfilling, productive life in the best way we know.
To do that, however, requires that we be aware of the pitfalls in our path, and many times those pitfalls are related to our race. If we forget that, we lose one of the tools that help us to cope.
“Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Measures of Man” (1959)
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.