Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Charlton Heston, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Freedom

Belmont Club remembers:

Not very many people will remember that Charlton Heston picketed a segregated theater premiering his own movie; or that he accompanied Martin Luther King Jr on the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. All at a time when no one in Hollywood was willing to speak out against racism. It's more likely that he'll be remembered as the six foot three inch tall actor, who played Moses and Ben Hur, and later became the president and spokesman for the National Rifle Association advocating the right to keep and bear arms; or recall that he opposed affirmative action. But Heston the marcher and Heston the NRA president come closer together if one recalls that in the actor's mind at least, racial segregation helped the cause of Communism. The fight for freedom took many forms, but underneath its varied guises it was always the same thing.

Part of the problem with Charlton Heston wasn't that he was inconsistent, but that he was too consistent. And the common mistake, even of the Old Bolsheviks, was to suppose that following a set of principles was better following fashion. Those who wonder whether Heston had wandered off should ask themselves whether Martin Luther King, had he lived, might also have remarked to the nation's First Black President that ''America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don't trust you with our guns.'' After all, King was a Republican and nobody remembers that either.

And the idea that the only real rebel is an individual or that a man might march with Dr. King and yet advocate the right to defend himself is so outrageously quaint that one wonders how many today find it completely inconceivable. But that almost proves the point.

Ben-Hur, what a great film. Heston and I probably disagree with the constitutionality of handguns, but he seems like a courageous leader when it comes to civil rights.

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