On the 40th anniversary of the assassination
of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we would do well to remember
an observation by the civil-rights organizer Ella Baker: “Martin
didn't make the movement, the movement made Martin.”
The same can be said of both Sens. Barack Obama
and Hillary Clinton. Veteran organizers from around the country
have lent their experience, wisdom and passion to both of these
campaigns, and a history of struggle for civil rights and women’s
rights has catapulted them forward.
Interestingly enough, both candidates lay claim
to the mantle of the civil-rights movement.
Clinton, the admitted Goldwater girl, went to
Selma and recalled the impact of hearing King speak in 1963
in Chicago as a transformative moment.
In January, on Martin Luther King Day, she also
stood in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church and told her
audience that it was she who was the daughter and beneficiary
of the movement’s victories. She offered her own telling
analysis of what she viewed as the linchpin of victory for the
civil-rights movement: It was having a president willing to
put into law the demands of a mass movement led by King.
Obama laid claim to the inheritance of the civil-rights
movement by deeming the freedom fighters of the 1960s as the
“Moses Generation” that led black people out of
slavery. That makes Obama and his peers the “Joshua Generation.”
At one debate, the candidates were asked why
Martin Luther King would endorse them. Obama’s answer
was also telling and quite true.
“I don’t think Dr. King would endorse
any of us,” Obama said. “I think what he would call
upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable.”
And he added: “I believe change does not happen from the
top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood
We forget that lesson at our peril.
Many Americans are so hungry for an end to the
horrendous Bush administration that like a love-starved person
they view their new prospect through rose-colored glasses.
The lesson from King’s life is that King
was not the answer. As Obama often says in his speeches, “We
are the leaders we have been waiting for.” Nothing could
be more to the point.
Barack Obama won’t save us.
Hillary Clinton won’t save us.
Through our own determined efforts, we have to
That process will continue well beyond November
2008 no matter who is in the White House come January.
Board membe Barbara Ransby,
PhD - Historian, writer, and longtime political activist. Dr.
Ransby is currently an associate professor at the University
of Illinois at Chicago in the Departments of African American
Studies and History. She is the author of the award-winning
biography, “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement:
A Radical Democratic Vision.”. Click
here to contact Dr. Ransby.