Dr. Martin Luther King

Barack Obama may be the first black president of the United States of America, but his presidency has not solved or eased longstanding racial tensions in this country.

That according to Arizona State University history professor Matthew Whitaker, who said in a speech Friday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that America is at a “fork in the road” regarding social justice and equal rights.

The balance favors those who put Obama in office, he said.

He cited the coalition of the population who elected Obama, and said they are not going to slow down, but will grow in number and influence.

As a result, Whitaker called Obama the “architect of the new America” in regard to the future of politics.

Whitaker’s address, titled “Race and Region in the Age of Obama” launched by recalling Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which the scholar described as warm, touching and relatable. But he told his audience that it was also meant to challenge imperialism and militarism.

The ASU professor commented that many have a new vision of race relations as a result of Obama’s election, but Whitaker suggested improvement of race relations in America has not been achieved under Obama.

He said African Americans are still not free, but progress and equality in some measure can be seen.

As a historian, Whitaker said that through the Founding Father’s study and readings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, revolutionary values eluded people of color, women, and the unwanted.

A vision of equality eventually exploded, he said, as a result of these values in 1861 at the start of the Civil War.

After the Civil War, a new kind of resistance to people of color led to what Whitaker described as “virtual slavery” at the turn of the century, to which it would take another century before this began to change.

Professor Whitaker claims that Obama’s election signifies that change in society, calling the electorate an “astringent” because they bring to the surface the imperfections in the American society.

The event was hosted by the University of Arizona Africana Studies Program, in which they described the address as a “provocative discussion” regarding the need for interracial alliances and activism to promote progress in social justice and race relations.

Whitaker is also the author of “Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama.”

College Fix contributor Katie Jones is a student at the University of Arizona.

Was Martin Luther King, Jr a conservative? The answer, I think, yes and no. As the face of the 1960’s civil rights movement King argued to advance the causes of organized labor and advocated civil disobedience as a means of resisting racial injustice. Those aren’t things we typically associate with conservatives.

On the other hand, King had no interest in the identity politics that make up so much of the racial politics of liberals today. He argued, most powerfully, for people to be judged by “the content of their character,” not the color of their skin. This argument meshes well with the modern conservatives’ emphasis on individualism and personal responsibility.

At CNN.com, John Blake posts some thoughts on the issue:

As the nation celebrates King’s national holiday Monday, a new battle has erupted over his legacy. Some conservatives are saying it’s time for them to reclaim the legacy of King, whose message of self-help, patriotism and a colorblind America, they say, was “fundamentally conservative.”

But those who marched with King and studied his work say that notion is absurd. The political class that once opposed King, they argue, is now trying to distort his message.

King’s most famous words are the crux of the disagreement.

“He was against all policies based on race,” says Peter Schramm, a conservative historian. “The basis of his attack on segregation was ‘judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.’ That’s a profound moral argument.”

I think the answer lies partly in understanding that conservatism itself has changed since the 1960’s. The states-rights conservatism of that day has gone extinct in the mainstream Republican and Democratic parties, insofar as the abolishing of segregation via federal power is now universally celebrated. No major figure in either party today would argue to uphold segregation on the basis of state’s rights.

Yet the left has certainly abandoned King’s vision of a color-blind society, where all would be judged (and indeed all would judge themselves) on the basis of character rather than melanin. And it’s hard to imagine King endorsing the modern left-wing policy of perpetual racial quotas as permanent solution to inequality. And it’s impossible to imagine him doing the kind of blatant race-mongering and profiteering that passes for civil rights leadership among those several men who have sought to fill King’s place as the spiritual and political leader of black America. I don’t need to name names.

I don’t think King would fit perfectly today into either mainstream party when it comes to race issues. The fact is, mainstream liberals have moved away from King’s most enduring principle–that we should assess the individual without regard to skin color. Meanwhile, mainstream conservatives have moved toward him in several important areas–realizing once and for all that states’ rights are secondary to natural rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Was Martin Luther King a conservative?

Maybe that’s the wrong question.

A better one would be this: Are today’s conservatives more like King?

The answer is, yes.

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Image Source: U.S. Library of Congress