Doing the Right Thing

Julian Bond, photo by AP Principle is seen only rarely in politics. The most recent sighting came courtesy of the civil-rights activist, NAACP chair and University of Virginia history professor Julian Bond, who pays more than lip service to his beliefs.

After his longtime colleague and friend Coretta Scott King died on Jan. 30, word came that her funeral would be held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA, where youngest King child Bernice, an ordained minister, is an elder. But Mrs. King’s home church was Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church; her renowned and revered spouse served as co-pastor there from 1960 to his 1968 assassination. Additionally, New Birth’s senior pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, is well known for his anti-GLBT views, as is Bernice King. This presented Bond with a dilemma: Coretta King fought for legal equality for all, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. And so does Julian Bond.

From the Washington Blade:

Emily Frost, a second-year [University of Virginia] student who attended Bond’s class Feb. 7, told the university paper that Bond “said that he chose not to attend the funeral [because] during her life Coretta Scott King very much [pushed] for civil rights not just for African-Americans but also for gays and lesbians. …

Bond also discussed his absence at King’s funeral in an e-mail to another student and denounced Long’s anti-gay beliefs, the Cavalier Daily reported.

“Mrs. King was a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights,” Bond wrote in the e-mail, according to the newspaper. …

“The pastor of the church where she was funeralized led an anti-gay march through Atlanta — sadly, Mrs. King’s youngest daughter, an elder in his church, accompanied him. We cannot know what Mrs. King’s wishes were for a funeral — she probably had no choice about church or minister — but I did have a choice — and while I have an abiding respect for my former neighbor and friend, I chose not to be in that church.”

That’s called integrity, friends. Given the stock that the Kings put into living one’s principles and doing what is right even when doing so is “neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,” I assume both Martin and Coretta would approve.

It may have not been easy for Mrs. King, the widow of a Baptist minister, to take a public pro-GLBT stand, but she did, even when others warned her not to do so.

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice,” she once notably said. “But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”

Coretta King stood with GLBT leaders to support federal bills to end antigay discrimination and to oppose the vile Federal Marriage Amendment. And she came forward to show publicly her support for marriage equality.

Gay activists Matt Foreman and  Mandy Carter with Coretta Scott King in Washington, 2003

“Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union,” she said during a 2004 speech at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

Dr. King also stood on the side of fairness for all. When some movement leaders insisted that the civil rights pioneer fire openly gay Bayard Rustin – an invaluable adviser of King’s and one of the architects of the historic 1963 March on Washington – he refused. King never issued a public word about GLBT people or marriage equality, but to me, the Rustin incident is telling.

More from The Raw Story:

“Dr. King believed in granting rights to everybody,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a veteran of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who knew King well. …

“My own relations with Dr. King would leave me to believe that he would come down on the side of inclusion,” Lowery said, “instead of exclusion.”

The Kings passed the message of inclusion and equality on to their children.

Their eldest child, inspirational speaker Yolanda King, heard that message loud and clear. I was privileged to meet and talk with her at a 2000 protest in Cleveland by gay-rights direct-action group Soulforce; this woman is true-blue. While there, King, along with other civil-rights veterans, bravely marched alongside equality seekers of all hues and sexual orientations to support equal treatment for gays in churches.

Second-born child Martin Luther King III has also worked for inclusion. According to Louise Chu of the Associated Press, he “has condemned homophobia. As an organizer of the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, King and his mother invited gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups to participate.”

I have not been able to pin down younger son Dexter King’s views on gay rights, but in the scads of media accounts I have read on the Kings and their activities, two names emerged as anti-GLBT members of the family: the youngest child, the Rev. Bernice King, and her cousin Alveda C. King. With New Birth’s Bishop Long, they led an anti-gay march in 2004 that traveled through Atlanta’s streets and to Dr. King’s gravesite. The march angered many in the civil-rights and gay-equality movements. I suspect Coretta King, who worked so hard for inclusion – a message she believed her late spouse supported – was displeased too.

By skipping her funeral at an anti-gay church, Julian Bond paid real and meaningful respect to the memory and legacy of Mrs. King. Cheers to the NAACP chair for doing the right thing, however unsafe, impolitic and unpopular some may consider the move. Character is a rare quality in leaders: We saw it in the finest moments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent crusade and we saw it in the inspiring life and work of Coretta Scott King. It obviously lives in Bond as well. A welcome sight it is.

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