Same as it ever was.

Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash.

This year, news coverage of the MLK Jr. Day holiday proved even more widely varied and incendiary than in previous years.

From musings on “Why So Few MLK Day Sales?” (Thomas Buckley, Substack: “Does the Holiday’s Somber Tone Limit the Message?”) to Vice President Kamala Harris declaring that Republicans — presumably all 80 million or so of them — pose a “profound threat to freedom in America.”

No hyperbole there, as Harris assures us: Only half the population out to get the other half.

“Americans’ party preferences were evenly divided in 2022, with 45% of U.S. adults identifying as Republican or saying they were Republican-leaning independents, and 44% identifying as Democrats or saying they were Democratic-leaning independents,” according to Gallup. “The last time preferences were this closely divided was in 2011, with Democrats holding at least a three-percentage-point advantage in each year of the past decade.”

From one side of the political spectrum, it was “Leftists Hate MLK Because They Care More About Color Of Skin Than Content Of Character” (Kendall Qualls, The Federalist). On the other side, it was “Trump’s unholy America to collide with MLK” (Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Some coverage was much better than others.

MLK’s Former Speechwriter: ‘We Are Trying to Save the Soul of America,’” began Free Press writer Francesca Block on January 14.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2024, Block sat down with Dr. King’s speechwriter, attorney, and longtime friend, Dr. Clarence Jones.

“‘I Have a Dream’ coauthor Clarence Jones on color blindness, Ibram X. Kendi, black-Jewish relations, and why MLK ‘wouldn’t permit what’s going on,” Block began.

“I spoke to Jones, 93, two weeks ago as he sat on a beige couch in the humble second-floor apartment in Palo Alto, California, that he shares with his wife,” Block described the scene. “A black-and-white close-up of King sits directly above his head, almost like a north star.”

“‘Regrettably, some very important parts of his message are not being remembered,’ Jones said, referring to King’s belief in ‘radical nonviolence’ and his eagerness to build allies across ethnic lines,” revealed Block.

Interviews like these make Bari Weiss’ popular outlet for independent journalism, the Free Press, a must-subscribe for anyone wanting a more nuanced view of political and world events.

It was a drastically different tone from the one set at Salon: “MLK biographer Jonathan Eig: Americans are ‘missing the point of the King holiday,” according to Salon senior writer Chauncey Devega. “We now ‘treat it like a day to celebrate King and we ignore the fact that all these other things are going on.’”

“With the Age of Trump, ascendant neofascism, and reinvigorated white supremacy the same social and political forces that martyred Dr. King are now reversing the gains of the civil rights movement,” wrote Devega.

Dr. Clarence Jones does not agree. Given his long history in the movement, his opinion should perhaps hold a good deal more weight.

“Though Jones was mainly a background figure in the 1960s civil rights movement, it might not have been possible without him,” as Francesca Block revealed for the Free Press. “He fundraised for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference so successfully that Vanity Fair later called him ‘the moneyman of the movement.’”

“In 1963, when King was in prison, Jones helped smuggle out his notes, stuffing the words King scrawled on old newspapers and toilet paper into his pants and walking out,” Block went on. “Later, he helped string those notes together into King’s famous address, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which argued the case for civil disobedience, and was eventually published in every major newspaper in the country.”

“The movement King led with Jones by his side helped achieve school integration, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” reported Block. “So, when asked if America has made any progress on race, Jones is dumbstruck. ‘Are you kidding?’ he said, with shock in his voice. ‘Any person who says that to the contrary, any black person who alleges themselves to be a scholar, or any white person who says otherwise, they’re just not telling you the truth.’”

“Bring back some black person who was alive in 1863, and bring them back today,” Dr. Jones told Block. “Have them be a witness.”

“He adds that it’s possible to read Kendi’s prize-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning, and ‘come away believing that America is irredeemably racist, beyond redemption,’” wrote Block. “It’s a theory he vehemently disagrees with.

“That would violate everything that Martin King and I worked for,” said Dr. Jones during the interview. “It would mean it’s not possible for white racist people to change. Well, I am telling you something. We have empirical evidence that we changed the country.”

Dr. Jones’ was a powerful and uplifting message on a day that seems to become more fraught with cultural and social landmines every year.

Too many major media outlets used the opportunity this year to relate the holiday back, back, and back again to that one North Star to which they relate everything else: Donald Trump.

And while Jones is certainly no fan of Trump, his interview with Francesca Block was a welcome relief from the ever-present subject.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)