Honoring the true legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We’ve already kicked off Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend with the president-elect, Donald Trump, going after Rep. John Lewis — among other things, a civil rights leader who marched with MLK and literally got his head cracked open during the Bloody Sunday march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge — as being “all talk, talk, talk — no actions or results.” This was in response to Lewis questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency because of Russian interference in the election.

(Trump also told Lewis to “spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” which… As a former resident of Lewis’s shitthole of a district, I feel compelled to point out that Atlanta is home to four universities, the CDC, numerous arts and cultural institutions, the national and/or global headquarters of about a dozen corporations, family-friendly communities, and residents of all races and socioeconomic statuses who love it, so yeah, horrible shape, way to do your research, DT.)

Anyway, no, the weekend didn’t get off to an auspicious start. But it should be noted how many people of all political persuasions came out in defense of Lewis and his sacrifices in the name of equality and freedom, which is a good lead-in to a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. And while much of that celebration will take the form of readings and re-publishings of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, The Root chooses to celebrate his acknowledgement of the reality as well as the dream, and of the ongoing fight necessary to turn the one into the other. While many supposedly concerned commentators are quick to invoke the name of MLK as a way of scolding black people to behave themselves, he was actually a radical who wasn’t nearly as lauded by the establishment as he is today, and that’s a legacy that should be celebrated as a source of inspiration.

Who doesn’t love Martin Luther King, Jr.? MLK literally gave his life to fight for liberation and equality for black people in this country. But people often forget that he was actually pretty radical. And he was so hated that he was targeted and tracked by the FBI throughout his entire fight for civil rights.

BILL O’REILLY. Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest.

MIKE HUCKABEE. That’s the whole message, I think, that Dr. King tried to present. And I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE. Dr. King, if he were alive today, he wouldn’t disrespect the flag or the anthem. He would use his words and his voice.

Yes, he believed that nonviolence was the best way to achieve liberation. But he would never condemn how black people deal with race without condemning the system that creates it.

He said it himself. “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.”

But that’s not the MLK people so proudly invoke today. Don’t let the suit fool you. MLK’s politics went far beyond having a dream that “little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers.”

In the same speech, he said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.”

Based on those words alone, it’s safe to say that Dr. Martin Luther King’s fight is far from over. It continues today through movements like Black Lives Matter. And there’s still a long way to go. Black people are over five times more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans. Over a third of black children in the U.S. live in poverty. And black people are still disproportionately killed and targeted by the police.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” There’s no right way to demand freedom. If there were, we’d already be free.


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