Every year, I’m increasingly inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he, as a radical activist and leader, transformed and amplified the Civil Rights Movement. I’ve written numerous posts about Dr. King on his birthday each year (here, here, and here), with my activism and knowledge of who he really was progressing as I’ve aged. Today’s society has altered Dr. King’s legacy, molding him into a soft, passive Rev. instead of the bold and outspoken abolitionist and anti-capitalist he truly was. For his national holiday, I am remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.– the man who shaped a generation of activism.
Dr. King was not a passive man by any means, despite what bipartisan politicians may have us believe. He did not ask for assistance in gaining equal rights for Black citizens. He did not charm white politicians in an effort to “unify” the country. He did not get on his knees as a sacrificial lamb for his cause. When he was alive, Dr. King and everything he fought for was hated by the majority of Americans. According to a Harris Poll from 1968, 75% of Americans publicly disproved of Dr. King’s work– detesting any mention of the Civil Rights Movement (which they now praise) before he was executed in Memphis. The FBI stalked and harassed Dr. King, even going so far as to send him letters that tried to convince him to commit suicide. Dr. King denounced the military and their brutal colonization tactics, condemned the US’ actions in the Vietnam War, advocated for federal subsidies for poor and Black communities, criticized capitalism, fought against white supremacy of all forms, actively participated in political public policy, and used disruptive protests as a tool in fighting for economic and racial justice. Liberal and conservative politicians alike as well as the media paint Dr. King out to be a political puppet who only ever spoke publicly during his “I Have A Dream” speech. They love quoting his iconic lines about wishing that white boys and girls could peacefully coexist with Black boys and girls while rejecting every other letter and speech he’s written that criticize the violence and brutality white people had enacted upon Black citizens. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King comes from his 1968 speech “The Other America” where he says,
“And what is it America has failed to hear?… It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
Another one of my most read quotes is from his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is a historical letter of great importance from Dr. King:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical revolutionary who was murdered for his beliefs and accomplishments and because he threatened the state of white supremacy in America. In remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, may we reflect on the life he truly lived and the person he was, not as the weak rag doll with whom we are presented on TV, but as the powerful and passionate spear figure of the Civil Rights Movement.