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Opinion: What Martin Luther King Would Say as a Jersey Guy Today

Ridgewood mayor Paul Aronsohn reflects on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wonders how he'd view current societal issues in the Garden State.

The following was submitted by Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn and first ran in the Sunday edition of the Star-Ledger.

Imagine that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is still alive.

Imagine, for a moment, that he is still here on Earth … living, preaching, advocating and leading. Imagine that he is here to celebrate his 84th birthday before heading down to Washington tomorrow to witness the second inauguration of the first African-American president.

And imagine that he has followed the path taken by many prominent leaders — such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Richard Nixon — and decided to spend his later years living right here in New Jersey.

Something tells me King would have a lot to say. From civil rights to economic justice to war, he would likely have strong views on the full range of contemporary topics. Voter disenfranchisement. Disability rights. Fiscal cliffs. Income inequality. Health care reform. Sandy. Newtown. Afghanistan. Terrorism.

But King would likely spend much of his time talking about his new home state, because the honorary St. Peter’s College doctor of law had a special affinity for New Jersey. 

As such, he would tell friends that he moved to the Garden State because of its rich, diverse culture … its tradition of political moderation and social progressivism … and, of course, its wonderful shoreline. (King liked his summers.) Having resettled his family in Bergen County, he would be known for boasting of his adopted suburban community and for challenging his New York friends with his passionate defense of all things New Jersey.

But lately, he would focus his thoughts on the changes that have taken place the past few years — changes that have threatened that culture, undermined that moderation and progress, and devastated that shoreline. 

He would welcome the demographic shifts that have occurred over the years, leading to an even more ethnically and racially diverse population. But he would criticize decisions that have left our state Supreme Court without an African-American jurist, our congressional delegation without a woman and thousands of people with developmental disabilities without a place to call home. And he would express deep frustration and disappointment that his belovedNew Jersey has failed to do the right thing regarding one of the most significant civil rights issues of the day: marriage equality.

He would speak of the state’s rampant unemployment — one of the worst in the country, even before the recent hurricane put many out of business. He would talk about the increasing tax burden that is crushing middle-class families throughout the state … a tax burden caused by a 20 percent increase in property taxes, reductions in the earned income tax credit for the working poor and cuts in the Homestead Tax Rebate for seniors and people with disabilities. 

He would condemn the toxic political environment in Trenton. He would welcome the occasional bipartisanship, but challenge our elected leaders to set a more positive, more productive tone. In that spirit, he would urge the governor to refrain from his notorious public outbursts, name-calling and derogatory language. And while he would acknowledge the governor’s national ambitions, he would ask him to come back to the political center on issues ranging from global warming to reproductive health. 

He would talk endlessly about the need to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to give immediate aid to our brothers and sisters in nearby Little Ferry and Moonachie, whose towns and lives have been left in great disrepair. And he would question the motives and judgment of those congressional members who have opposed such assistance, begging them to reconsider their position in the name of all that is good and decent.

He would note with disbelief that the governor failed to make even a single reference to the Newtown massacre in his recent state of the state address, suggesting it was a missed opportunity to address the culture of violence that victimizes too many of our children.

Finally, King would emphasize the importance of this year’s gubernatorial election. He would implore his fellow New Jerseyans to take this election and their vote very seriously. He would note that the best way to right the wrongs of the past few years — the social stagnation, the economic injustice and the political polarization — is through the ballot box. As he famously explained, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action.”

Taken together, if King were alive and living in our great Garden State, he would be pleased, but concerned — pleased with the progress made over the years, concerned with recent decisions seemingly taking us in the wrong direction. He would challenge the collective conscience and collective wisdom of New Jersey’s political class to do better, to be better. He would remind us all of our common humanity.

And one last thing: If King were alive, something tells me that the avid basketball fan would express his profound disappointment with the Nets’ move to Brooklyn, noting that the Teaneck-born team should have stayed in its rightful home in Newark. After all, King had developed an increasingly close relationship with the Brick City, which had become a focus of his Poor People’s Campaign and that today bears many tributes to the great civil rights leader. 

Perhaps presciently, during his last visit to Newark on March 27, 1968 — just a week before his assassination — King reportedly noted to a couple of local journalists, “I’ll be coming back to New Jersey because there is a lot to be done.”

Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 12:07 AM
If you want to see an excellent post on what liberals/ progressives have done for the black community, go to http://m.blogs.christianpost.com/justice-and-righteousness/streets-versus-dreams-14254/
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Mr. Aronsohn, What is the basis for your statement "And he would express deep frustration and disappointment that his beloved New Jersey has failed to do the right thing regarding one of the most significant civil rights issues of the day: marriage equality"? The reason I ask is that Dr. Alveda King, Dr. King's niece, said "My Uncle Martin Luther King, Jr. Did Not March For Same Sex Marriage." And Dr. King's daughter, Bernice King, said in a 2004 march against same-sex marriage "I know deep down in my sanctified soul that [my father] did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage." The only time Dr. King publicly mentioned homosexuality was in 1958 in answer to a question posed in his advice column in Ebony magazine. A boy asked: "I am a boy. But I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don't want my parents to know about me. What can I do?" King answered: "Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it." King remained silent during the beginnings of the gay rights movement of the '50s, and many black christian leaders publicly challenged President Obama's newly "evolved" position. So why are you so sure about Dr. King's position on "marriage equality"?
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:17 PM
A little history lesson (Part 1): October 13, 1858 During Lincoln-Douglas debates, U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) states: “I do not regard the Negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother, or any kin to me whatever”; Douglas became Democratic Party’s 1860 presidential nominee. April 16, 1862 President Lincoln signs bill abolishing slavery in District of Columbia; in Congress, 99% of Republicans vote yes, 83% of Democrats vote no. July 17, 1862 Over unanimous Democrat opposition, Republican Congress passes Confiscation Act stating that slaves of the Confederacy “shall be forever free”. January 31, 1865 13th Amendment banning slavery passed by U.S. House with unanimous Republican support, intense Democrat opposition. April 8, 1865 13th Amendment banning slavery passed by U.S. Senate with 100% Republican support, 63% Democrat opposition. November 22, 1865 Republicans denounce Democrat legislature of Mississippi for enacting “black codes,” which institutionalized racial discrimination. February 5, 1866 U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA) introduces legislation, successfully opposed by Democrat President Andrew Johnson, to implement “40 acres and a mule” relief by distributing land to former slaves. April 9, 1866 Republican Congress overrides Democrat President Johnson’s veto; Civil Rights Act of 1866, conferring rights of citizenship on African-Americans, becomes law.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:19 PM
A little history lesson (Part 2): May 10, 1866 U.S. House passes Republicans’ 14th Amendment guaranteeing due process and equal protection of the laws to all citizens; 100% of Democrats vote no June 8, 1866 U.S. Senate passes Republicans’ 14th Amendment guaranteeing due process and equal protection of the law to all citizens; 94% of Republicans vote yes and 100% of Democrats vote no January 8, 1867 Republicans override Democrat President Andrew Johnson’s veto of law granting voting rights to African-Americans in D.C. July 19, 1867 Republican Congress overrides Democrat President Andrew Johnson’s veto of legislation protecting voting rights of African-Americans. March 30, 1868 Republicans begin impeachment trial of Democrat President Andrew Johnson, who declared: “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government of white men”. September 12, 1868 Civil rights activist Tunis Campbell and 24 other African-Americans in Georgia Senate, every one a Republican, expelled by Democrat majority; would later be reinstated by Republican Congress. October 7, 1868 Republicans denounce Democratic Party’s national campaign theme: “This is a white man’s country: Let white men rule”. October 22, 1868 While campaigning for re-election, Republican U.S. Rep. James Hinds (R-AR) is assassinated by Democrat terrorists who organized as the Ku Klux Klan.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:22 PM
A little history lesson (Part 3): December 10, 1869 Republican Gov. John Campbell of Wyoming Territory signs FIRST-in-nation law granting women right to vote and to hold public office February 3, 1870 After passing House with 98% Republican support and 97% Democrat opposition, Republicans’ 15th Amendment is ratified, granting vote to all Americans regardless of race May 31, 1870 President U.S. Grant signs Republicans’ Enforcement Act, providing stiff penalties for depriving any American’s civil rights. June 22, 1870 Republican Congress creates U.S. Department of Justice, to safeguard the civil rights of African-Americans against Democrats in the South. September 6, 1870 Women vote in Wyoming, in FIRST election after women’s suffrage signed into law by Republican Gov. John Campbell. February 28, 1871 Republican Congress passes Enforcement Act providing federal protection for African-American voters. April 20, 1871 Republican Congress enacts the Ku Klux Klan Act, outlawing Democratic Party-affiliated terrorist groups which oppressed African-Americans. October 10, 1871 Following warnings by Philadelphia Democrats against black voting, African-American Republican civil rights activist Octavius Catto murdered by Democratic Party operative; his military funeral was attended by thousands.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:23 PM
A little history lesson (Part 4): October 18, 1871 After violence against Republicans in South Carolina, President Ulysses Grant deploys U.S. troops to combat Democrat terrorists who formed the Ku Klux Klan. November 18, 1872 Susan B. Anthony arrested for voting, after boasting to Elizabeth Cady Stanton that she voted for “the Republican ticket, straight”. January 17, 1874 Armed Democrats seize Texas state government, ending Republican efforts to racially integrate government. September 14, 1874 Democrat white supremacists seize Louisiana statehouse in attempt to overthrow racially-integrated administration of Republican Governor William Kellogg; 27 killed. March 1, 1875 Civil Rights Act of 1875, guaranteeing access to public accommodations without regard to race, signed by Republican President U.S. Grant; passed with 92% Republican support over 100% Democrat opposition. January 10, 1878 U.S. Senator Aaron Sargent (R-CA) introduces Susan B. Anthony amendment for women’s suffrage; Democrat-controlled Senate defeated it 4 times before election of Republican House and Senate guaranteed its approval in 1919. Republicans foil Democratic efforts to keep women in the kitchen, where they belong. February 8, 1894 Democrat Congress and Democrat President Grover Cleveland join to repeal Republicans’ Enforcement Act, which had enabled African-Americans to vote.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:26 PM
A little history lesson (Part 5): January 15, 1901 Republican Booker T. Washington protests Alabama Democratic Party’s refusal to permit voting by African-Americans. May 29, 1902 Virginia Democrats implement new state constitution, condemned by Republicans as illegal, reducing African-American voter registration by 86%. February 12, 1909 On 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, African-American Republicans and women’s suffragists Ida Wells and Mary Terrell co-found the NAACP. May 21, 1919 Republican House passes constitutional amendment granting women the vote with 85% of Republicans in favor, but only 54% of Democrats; in Senate, 80% of Republicans would vote yes, but almost half of Democrats no. August 18, 1920 Republican-authored 19th Amendment, giving women the vote, becomes part of Constitution; 26 of the 36 states to ratify had Republican-controlled legislatures. January 26, 1922 House passes bill authored by U.S. Rep. Leonidas Dyer (R-MO) making lynching a federal crime; Senate Democrats block it with filibuster. June 2, 1924 Republican President Calvin Coolidge signs bill passed by Republican Congress granting U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans. October 3, 1924 Republicans denounce three-time Democrat presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan for defending the Ku Klux Klan at 1924 Democratic National Convention.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:30 PM
A little history lesson (Part 6): June 12, 1929 First Lady Lou Hoover invites wife of U.S. Rep. Oscar De Priest (R-IL), an African-American, to tea at the White House, sparking protests by Democrats across the country. August 17, 1937 Republicans organize opposition to former Ku Klux Klansman and Democrat U.S. Senator Hugo Black, appointed to U.S. Supreme Court by FDR; his Klan background was hidden until after confirmation. June 24, 1940 Republican Party platform calls for integration of the armed forces; for the balance of his terms in office, FDR refuses to order it. September 30, 1953 Earl Warren, California’s three-term Republican Governor and 1948 Republican vice presidential nominee, nominated to be Chief Justice; wrote landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. November 25, 1955 Eisenhower administration bans racial segregation of interstate bus travel. March 12, 1956 Ninety-seven Democrats in Congress condemn Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and pledge to continue segregation. June 5, 1956 Republican federal judge Frank Johnson rules in favor of Rosa Parks in decision striking down “blacks in the back of the bus” law. September 9, 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower signs Republican Party’s 1957 Civil Rights Act.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:36 PM
A little history lesson (Part 7): September 24, 1957 Sparking criticism from Democrats such as Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, President Dwight Eisenhower deploys the 82nd Airborne Division to Little Rock, AR to force Democrat Governor Orval Faubus to integrate public schools. May 6, 1960 President Dwight Eisenhower signs Republicans’ Civil Rights Act of 1960, overcoming 125-hour, around-the-clock filibuster by 18 Senate Democrats. May 2, 1963 Republicans condemn Democrat sheriff of Birmingham, AL for arresting over 2,000 African-American schoolchildren marching for their civil rights. September 29, 1963 Gov. George Wallace (D-AL) defies order by U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, to integrate Tuskegee High School. June 9, 1964 Republicans condemn 14-hour filibuster against 1964 Civil Rights Act by U.S. Senator and former Ku Klux Klansman Robert Byrd (D-WV). Byrd served as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate until 2010 when he died.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:37 PM
A little history lesson (Part 8): June 10, 1964 Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) criticizes Democrat filibuster against 1964 Civil Rights Act, calls on Democrats to stop opposing racial equality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced and approved by a staggering majority of Republicans in the Senate. The Act was opposed by most southern Democrat senators, several of whom were proud segregationists—one of them being Al Gore Sr. Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson relied on Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader from Illinois, to get the Act passed. August 4, 1965 Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) overcomes Democrat attempts to block 1965 Voting Rights Act; 94% of Senate Republicans vote for landmark civil right legislation, while 27% of Democrats oppose. Voting Rights Act of 1965, abolishing literacy tests and other measures devised by Democrats to prevent African-Americans from voting, signed into law; higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats vote in favor. August 10, 1988 President Ronald Reagan signs Civil Liberties Act of 1988, compensating Japanese-Americans for deprivation of civil rights and property during World War II internment ordered by FDR February 19, 1976 President Gerald Ford formally rescinds President Franklin Roosevelt’s notorious Executive Order authorizing internment of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 01:43 PM
A little history lesson (Part 9): September 15, 1981 President Ronald Reagan establishes the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to increase African-American participation in federal education programs. June 29, 1982 President Ronald Reagan signs 25-year extension of 1965 Voting Rights Act. August 10, 1988 President Ronald Reagan signs Civil Liberties Act of 1988, compensating Japanese-Americans for deprivation of civil rights and property during World War II internment ordered by FDR. November 21, 1991 President George H. W. Bush signs Civil Rights Act of 1991 to strengthen federal civil rights legislation. August 20, 1996 Bill authored by U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari (R-NY) to prohibit racial discrimination in adoptions, part of Republicans’ Contract With America, becomes law. So, I agree with Mr. Aronsohn, elections are important ... vote wisely.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 06:24 PM
The above history lesson was excerpted from http://www.black-and-right.com/the-democrat-race-lie/

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