“He is a human being, just like all of us, but he rose to the level of being a hero…” ~ Rev. Ralph Abernathy
Back in January, movie director Oliver Stone stated that he would no longer be involved in the previously announced Martin Luther King Jr. biopic set to star actor Jamie Foxx in the lead role. Originally on board to write and direct the film, the director took to his Twitter account to explain his departure from the project:
Is this a case of a big-time, bullying film director having a bit of a temper tantrum while chewing on some sour grapes? Yeah — in a way.
Or could it be the King family is trying their damnedest to protect and preserve the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , even at the cost of compressing some of his “human-ness”? Sure. But what else can they be expected to do?
In time-honored tradition, King evolved from an ordinary human being to leader, a hero, a martyr and finally a saint. His name has become synonymous with the cause he helped perpetuate. He and heroes like him are expected to uphold standards beyond most other folks’ capabilities. They’re put up on pedestals where they must remain untarnished by whatever it is that keeps the rest of us from being heroes. And they can never step down from those heights.
All bullshit of course.
In 1989, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, known throughout the Civil Rights Movement as having been confidant, right-hand man and most importantly best friend to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote an autobiographical account of the turbulent civil rights era, in which he describes King as a tireless martyr for human rights , but also as a flesh-and-blood man who had a “weakness for women.”
In his book “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down”, Abernathy notoriously writes that King spent part of his last night on earth in Memphis, Tennessee with two women and that in the course of the evening a third woman, who he’d gotten into an argument with and had “knocked her across the bed.” Although only a few pages of the book, these details had enraged civil rights activists nationwide and Abernathy was branded a traitor. Hurt by what he says was a misunderstanding of his motives, he tried clarifying things in a television interview on C-Span, stating;
“He [King] is a human being, just like all of us, but he rose to the level of being a hero and when you become a hero in the midst of this army like we were and staying in jail three and four weeks, not sleeping with your wife, you don’t have to pursue women. Women pursue you.”
It makes me wonder whether our heroes think it fair to be cast in such a no-room-for-flaws light. Its been written that King’s wife and friends said he was racked by guilt about his personal failings. He found it uncomfortable to be put on a pedestal when all he wanted to do was end the injustice of segregation. In one of his famous speeches “A Time To Break the Silence”, King may have alluded to his own frailties and weaknesses,
“There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us.”
“There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.”
The film that Stone wanted to create most assuredly would also have alluded to the already publicized documents that Martin Luther King, Jr. was under FBI surveillance for several years until the day he died, due to his alleged ties with communist organizations throughout the country. The movie quite probably would also have included a Boston University scholars committee’s findings that said King may have appropriated others works as a graduate student and sometimes failed to attribute his sources.
Would aggrandizing these points in a major movie production diminish in any way the fact that MLK conceived and energized the remarkable Montgomery bus boycott when he was only 26 y.o.?
Or that he faced death daily in defiance of the status quo and inspired countless millions to march on Washington for the most brilliant occupation tactic this country had ever seen at the age of 34?
Would it cheapen the fact that in light of Hoover and the FBI’s obtaining all the above mentioned damaging information, photos and dossiers on him as well as their attempts at blackmail and the death threats to him and his family (Coretta Scott King– also of hero status), Martin continued on as an activist — and this is where he began his transformation to hero — against injustice in this country and around the world until he was assassinated at age 39?
No. King’s bravery, commitment and sacrifice can never be diminished. He’ll remain bright in the minds of millions forever like the eternal flame that sits at his gravesite in Atlanta, Georgia.
Stanford University historian Clayborn Carson, selected in 1985 by the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King to edit and publish her late husband’s papers, says this on the subject of the beatification of ordinary men and women;
”I don’t think it’s healthy in a democracy to believe that there are some people who were born great and not without human flaws and limitations. To me a heroic figure is someone who recognizes his or her own limitations and yet has the courage to respond to the demands of historical moments.”
Indeed. I for one will always admire and be in awe of the man, human frailties and all.
And for those who would cast stones… let them be without sin.