Happy Martin Luther King Day!
First, let’s get this out the way. I know we all love quoting the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. And I also know that many of us pretend colorblindness, integration, and interracial dating was his American Dream.
Well, that’s the whitewashed version that’s inaccurate at best and a collection of insidious lies at worst. Do me a favor. If you see or saw anyone sharing that watered basic-ness, then share these 10 things to know about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with them.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 10 Things We Should All Know
1. Most people viewed Dr. King unfavorably while he was alive, he fought against racism AND classism, and he was killed for it.
2. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazingly, imperfect human being who used radical nonviolence to expose the immorality of the racist, classist American social order. He came from an upper middle-class family. He started college at Morehouse at age 16. One of his mentors was Benjamin E. Mays. King was 26 when he became a spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott. He was jailed 29 times. He was also known for making everyone around him laugh. MLK had his flaws too; for example, he was prone to extramarital affairs (it is what it is).
3. His wife, Coretta Scott King was amazing in her own right, and held their family down while King was fighting for a better world. They frequently lived under threat of death, and were constantly surveilled by the U.S. government. The King family home was bombed on multiple occasions.
4. Regardless, King did have a Dream; and representation was only part of that dream. The majority of that speech talked about racialized economic inequality and the U.S. failing to live up to its lofty ideals.
5. It’s okay to celebrate Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Z, and other people who represent the highest levels of individual Black excellence. (And its also okay to critique them since none of us are perfect.)
6. Despite those and many more individually striving Black people; as a group, in many ways, Black Americans in 2020 are worse off than we were in 1968, the year Dr. King died. Hear me out… There are many things that are way better (e.g. education, racial violence in general, aspects of integration, homeownership ever so slightly). On the other hand, Black incarceration rates are 3x higher and income/wealth gaps between Black and White people are wider now than they were in 1968. Income inequality and worker protections in gernal are worse too.
7. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. #DemiTasse. His wife was a sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. His circle was filled with members of other NPHC Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs). He was one part of an entire movement of people from various walks of life that started before him and continued after his death.
8. If we really want to honor King’s legacy we must talk about the fact that he was killed AFTER he began speaking out about the Vietnam War and the military industrial complex, after he said we have socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor, and as he was on the way to a sanitation workers strike.
9. If we really want to honor his legacy today, we must be intersectional in our fight against racism and we must treat income and wealth inequality as the dangerous threat he knew it was more than 50 years ago.
10. One day we may truly be able to say from the mountain top that the highest definition of his dream is our reality and that is why we celebrate MLK Day! Sadly, that day is not in 2021. So let’s continue pressing on. Positively.
For more information on Dr. and Mrs. King,
History.com Editors – Martin Luther King Jr, Updated Jan 14, 2021
Image credits: Martin and Coretta in Nederland. Courtesy of Collectie Fotoburo de Boer. These images are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) license.