The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is more popular now than he was in 1968, when his voice was silenced by an assassin's bullet. Snippets of his masterful oratory, especially his ''I Have a Dream'' speech, are hailed as the model for bridging racial and religious differences.
But what if there had been 24-hour news channels with liberals and conservatives talking over one another, or YouTube and video cellphones to capture more of the civil-rights leader's ever-escalating public challenges to — and exasperated criticisms of — 1960s America?
Would King be in the political crosshairs of public debate as another minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is today? Would he be viewed as anti-American as critics have labeled Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's minister, Wright, who proclaimed ''God damn America'' in a 2003 sermon — a snippet that thousands have since viewed on YouTube?
Few people may remember that King was disinvited from the White House and the college-lecture circuit after giving an anti-Vietnam War sermon in which he excoriated the United States as ``the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.''
Or that King's speeches were peppered with provocative language — ''America is founded on genocide'' — especially as he saw white leaders ignore federal civil-rights laws and continue to espouse a ''separate but equal'' philosophy. King was called a communist by his detractors — and considered so dangerous that years after his death Americans learned that the FBI had been investigating him.
Today, Wright — the minister who uttered those three controversial words, ''God damn America,'' from his Chicago pulpit — faces a similar political storm.
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