Glenn Beck is planning a rally near the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Glenn Beck is planning a rally near the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. Alex Brandon/AP
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root.
With Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally set to take place near the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, the Internet is buzzing with speculation about what Fox News' seemingly unstoppable juggernaut has up his sleeve this time. Though Beck pulls stunts — both grand and small — as a matter of course, this weekend's event is of particular interest to civil rights leaders. It happens to falls on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address.
Progressive pundits are assuming that Beck is out to pervert the memory of King, a supposition not outside the realm of possibility, considering that the controversial TV and radio host once flippantly accused President Barack Obama of a being a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people." Beck has also called Obama "very white," a comment he's never explained further or contextualized. In other words, his credentials for hosting a rally on the anniversary and location of one of history's most memorable civil rights events are shoddy at best, nonexistent at worst.
Stoking even more suspicions is how secretive Beck is being. Little is known about the event except that there will be speeches by Beck and Sarah Palin, and attendees are prohibited from bringing signs. The fear, of course, is that it will turn into a pit of hatred a la the health-care town halls. But there may be a glimmer of hope.
On May 28, Beck devoted more than half an hour of his Fox program to celebrating the overlooked historical contributions of forgotten African-American heroes. With the assistance of David Barton, a Christian historian, and Lucas Morel, a politics professor and author of Lincoln's Sacred Effort: Defining Religion's Role in American Self-Government, Beck highlighted the accomplishments of black men like Prince Whipple and James Armistead, former slaves who went on to fight alongside General Lafayette and George Washington in the American Revolution.
"I'm so tired of people saying it was just white people [who founded America]," said Beck to a small, mixed audience. "No! Why are we intentionally leaving others out?"
If one could get past the host and co-hosts' final points — liberals try to keep black founders out of history books in order to better play the "victim card" — the segment was actually quite touching, and certainly not what we've come to expect from a Glenn Beck show.
A month-and-a-half later, when Shirley Sherrod was fired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture after video footage edited to make her look racist hit the Internet, Beck broke form yet again. While the White House, the USDA and the NAACP backpedaled — egg on their faces — from their condemnations of Sherrod, Beck proclaimed, "The NAACP didn't watch the whole video? ... This woman deserves her job back."
Chalk it up to Beck looking for an easy shot against the NAACP and the Obama administration, but note also that those entities deserved that shot, and Sherrod deserved her job back.
With these episodes in mind, and given that Beck has done more harm than good in the arena of racial politics, is Saturday guaranteed to be as disastrous as many imagine it will be, or will he do right this time? At this point nobody knows, but a powerful coalition of minority groups is betting against Beck. In an interview with The Washington Post last week, National Urban League President Marc Morial called the Restoring Honor rally "insulting." "August 28 is something special," he said. "It is a day that means something in American history because it was the demonstration in the United States in support of civil rights."
The NUL, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, are planning their own D.C. event for Saturday, though Sharpton told reporters that it "is not a countermarch to Beck."
Beck — who can ostensibly cry on command — has gotten good at playing the victim, and he seems prepared for backlash. He says that although he hadn't planned on having his rally on the anniversary of "I Have a Dream," he believes that "divine providence" set the date. And though he declined The Root's requests for comment on the civil rights coalition's counter-rally, a spokesperson for him suggested listening to Beck's June 28 radio program for answers:
Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Humans, humans embrace their ideas or reject their ideas. Too many are rejecting the founders' ideas. Too many have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's ideas, and far too many have either gotten just lazy or they have purposely distorted Martin Luther King's ideas of judge a man by the content of his character. Lately, in the last 20 years, we've been told that character doesn't matter. Well, if character doesn't matter, then what was Martin Luther King asking people to judge people by?
Beck went on to say that he expects a "grand opposition" come Saturday. "That's unfortunate," he told his listeners. "[But the opposition] will reveal themselves, and you will be revealed as people of peace and of character."