It's that time of year when Pun Salad looks at the upcoming
"celebration" of Martin
Luther King Day at the University Near Here. I'm somewhat surprised
to discover a change for the better. What happened?
More on that below. First, the obligatory "some things don't change"
MLK Day is the only holiday for which UNH engineers a multi-day shindig
with guest speakers and sponsored events.
It wouldn't be kosher to do it on the actual MLK day on
January 21; Spring Semester classes don't start until January 22,
and what's the point of doing this if the students aren't around?
So the events are scheduled to start the following week, from January 27
until February 5.
UNH publicizes a "Spiritual Celebration" service to be held at the
Durham Community Church. MLK Day is a day on which the Wall of
Separation is temporarily lowered, where the University advocates you
show up at a church for "songs, drumming, music, poetry, and special
allows the participants to obtain that warm-n-fuzzy moral superiority
buzz without getting bogged down in all that tacky, inconvenient God and
Here's where things are slightly better this year: it used to be that
the tone of the MLK celebration at UNH was in-your-face leftism. This
year…not quite as much! The keynote speaker is Rob Dixon
, UNH class of
1983. Mr. Dixon came to UNH on a basketball scholarship, and is one
of the team's top scorers ever. He didn't get to play in the NBA, but
played professionally in Europe. He went on to teach and coach, and
nowadays is is the founder and Executive Director of Project
, devoted to providing remedial education to "academically high
risk" students in the Boston Public School system.
In short, Mr. Dixon is actively involved in trying to teach black kids
who need help.
Search as I might, I can't find even a hint of the strident
leftism that's been the norm in past MLK day speakers.
And he has an actual strong tie to UNH, not just parachuting in
for the day.
So good for UNH; I don't get to say that enough. He's not my dream
MLK Day speaker (Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams,
Herman Cain, Tim Scott, …) but a decided positive break from
UNH's tedious ideological tradition.
Not to say that things are perfect. The program for MLK
day is the usual thoughtless word-stuffed
gasbaggery. For example, the description of the
previously-mentioned "MLK Spiritual Celebration: Rise Up into
Communities of Justice and Compassion" at Durham Community Church:
Join the UNH and Durham communities in an inter-faith and multi-faith
spiritual celebration that supports and highlights the spiritual
foundation that Martin Luther King Jr. brought to his life and works.
Featuring songs, drumming, music, poetry, and special readings, the
community remembers The Rev. Dr King. Reception to follow. All are
welcomed to this moving and joyous evening!
For prose like this,
the rules are: (1) don't use just one word when you can stick in a few
more; (2) don't worry at all about it meaning anything specific.
So: not just "justice" but "justice and compassion".
there are "communities" of each. Or maybe both. Whatever.
And you don't do anything as mundane as joining these
"communities". You "rise up into" them. Which is, I'm sure, a
But if you get past that, you get to ponder the nature of the "spiritual
celebration": it's "inter-faith" and "multi-faith". Are those
different concepts? If so, how will the "celebration" be split between
them? Maybe the music and drumming will be inter-faith, while the poetry
and readings will be multi-faith? There will be a test afterwards to see
if you figured it out.
The "spiritual celebration" has something to do with a "spiritual
foundation". What? Well it "supports and highlights" it.
How do you "support" a foundation? Isn't a foundation something that
supports things on its own?
Worse, we read that this is a foundation that Martin Luther King, Jr.
"brought to" his life and works. Does that metaphor work for you?
Me neither. You don't "bring" a foundation anywhere.
You build a foundation, and then you build on a foundation.
Geez, I hate it when I spend ten times more mental work reading a short bit of
prose that the author spent writing it.
Some notes about the MLK "quote" emblazoned at the top of the program:
Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.
The page claims this to be a quote from King's 1968 sermon "The Drum
Major Instinct". It turns out to be a popular misquotation. It
Everybody can be great . . . because everybody can serve.
Yes, I verified it by listening to the audio.
It even makes more sense that way. Fun fact: when I
pointed this out to the folks responsible for the page, I
was—rather snootily—informed that they had "vetted" the
quotation. Actually, they had discovered the (common) misquotation.
And rather than check again, they decided to leave it in place,
blissfully confident in their slipshod "vetting".
Oh well, at least it's not as if they carved it in stone.
Ironically, the "Drum Major" sermon was the source for a
different misquotation. And this one really was
carved in stone. When the MLK memorial in Washington DC
was unveiled in 2011, it was engraved with:
I WAS A DRUM MAJOR FOR JUSTICE PEACE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
… which, whatever its truthiness, are not words that
MLK actually uttered, and arguably have a totally different
connotation than the actual words King spoke. Leaving out
the responses from the congregation:
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a
long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them
not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder
what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel
Peace Prize--that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have
three or four hundred other awards--that's not important. Tell them not
to mention where I went to school.
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr.,
tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr.,
tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life
to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit
those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a
drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for
peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of
the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have
any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of
life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.
And that's all I want to say.
It was recently announced that the misquote will be
obliterated from the memorial sometime in 2013, at a cost of $700-$900K.
Finally, it should be noted that King's 1968 "Drum Major" sermon is widely
recognized as being "adapted" from a 1949 sermon by J. Wallace
Hamilton. Um, without attribution. You can get an idea of the
extent of the "adaptation" via the Google Books view of Keith D.
Miller's Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King,
Jr., and Its Sources. Fans of MLK tend to dismiss/explain away
his plagiarism from other works, which is fine, but
it's a little ironic that UNH is choosing to draw attention to
behavior that would get a current-day student severely disciplined.