The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - OPINION - LEONARD PITTS

Afew words about who “we” is. “This is a moment,” said Glenn Beck three months ago on his ra­dio pro­gram, “ ... that I think we ‘re­claim’ the civil rights move­ment. It has been so dis­torted and so turned up­side down. ... We are on the right side of his­tory. We are on the side of in­di­vid­ual free­doms and lib­er­ties and damn it, we will re­claim the civil rights moment. We will take that move­ment, be­cause we were the peo­ple that did it in the first place!” Beck was pro­mot­ing his “Restor­ing Honor” rally, held Satur­day at the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial, 47 years to the day af­ter Martin Luther King fa­mously spoke there. You’ll no­tice he didn’t de­fine the “we” he had in mind, but it seems rea­son­able to sup­pose Beck was speak­ing of peo­ple like him­self: af­flu­ent mid­dle-age con­ser­va­tives pos­sessed of the abil­ity to see so­cial­ism and com­mu­nism in places where it some­how es­capes the no­tice of oth­ers. If you agree that as­sump­tion is rea­son­able, then you must also agree Beck’s con­tention that his “we” were the ar­chi­tects of the civil rights move­ment is worse than non­sen­si­cal, worse than men­da­cious, worse than shame­less. It is “ob­scene.” It is theft of legacy. It is rob­bery of mar­tyr’s graves. We’re in an odd moment. Hav­ing op­posed the free­dom move­ment of the 20th cen­tury, some so­cial con­ser­va­tives seek, now that that move­ment stands vindi­cated and ven­er­ated, to ar­ro­gate unto them­selves its lan­guage and he­roes, to re­make it in their im­age. Thus, you get claims that “racism” is now what Shirley Sher­rod said in a speech to the NAACP. And peo­ple call­ing Sarah Palin the new face of fem­i­nism. And con­ser­va­tives tout­ing the like­li­hood that King voted Repub­li­can — as if the party in 1957 bore any re­sem­blance to the party now. But even by those stan­dards, Glenn Beck’s ef­fron­tery is mon­u­men­tal. Even by those stan­dards, he goes too far. Beck was part of the “we” who founded the civil rights move­ment!? “No.” Here’s who “we” is. “We” is Em­mett Till, tied to a cot­ton gin fan in the murky wa­ters of the Tal­la­hatchie River. “We” is Rosa Parks telling the bus driver no. “We” is Diane Nash on a sleep­less night wait­ing for missing Free­dom Rid­ers to check in. “We” is Charles Sher­rod, hus­band of Shirley, gin­gerly test­ing de­seg­re­ga­tion com­pli­ance in an Al­bany, Ga., bus sta­tion. “We” is a share­crop­per mak­ing his X on a form held by a white col­lege stu­dent from the North. “We” is celebri­ties like Harry Be­la­fonte, Mar­lon Brando and Per­nell Roberts of “Bo­nanza,” lend­ing their names, their wealth and their la­bor to the cause of free­dom. “We” is Medgar Evers, Michael Sch­w­erner, Jim­mie Lee Jack­son, James Reeb, Vi­ola Li­uzzo, Cyn­thia Wes­ley, An­drew Good­man, Denise McNair, James Chaney, Ad­die Mae Collins and Ca­role Robert­son, shot, beaten and blown to death for that cause. “We” is Lyndon John­son, build­ing a leg­isla­tive coali­tion of mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans and Democrats to de­feat in­tran­si­gent South­ern Demo­cratic con­ser­va­tives and en­shrine that cause into law. And “we” is Martin Luther King, giv­ing voice and moral clar­ity to the cause — and pay­ing for it with his life. The we to which Glenn Beck be­longs is the we that said no, the we that cried “so­cial­ism!” “com­mu­nism!” “tyranny!” when­ever black peo­ple and their al­lies cried, free­dom. The fatu­ous and dis­hon­or­able at­tempt to posit con­ser­va­tives as the prime en­gine of civil rights de­pends for suc­cess on the ig­no­rance of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Sadly, as any­one who has ever watched a Jay Walk­ing seg­ment on “The Tonight Show” can at­test, the Amer­i­can peo­ple have ig­no­rance in plen­i­tude. This, then, is to serve no­tice to Beck and his tea party faith­ful, who gath­ered in Lin­coln’s shadow to claim the man­tle of King: Some of us are not ig­no­rant. Some of us re­mem­ber. Some of us know very well who “we” is. And, who “we” is not.

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