On this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought I’d open this post with one of my favorite quotes from the late, great Reverend Doctor King.
Sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity are at the heart of many of the problems our country and our world has faced and continues to contend with to this very moment in time.
Can anyone honestly argue that many among us operate on sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity?
That said, my post will not focus on the MLK quote above, but rather on what MLK, Jr. means to me and on his true legacy.
Dr. King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, less than two years before I was born, so I cannot speak from empirical experience concerning his life. However, from what can be gleaned about Dr. King from first-hand accounts, media archives, and writings (including his own written records), the Dr. King we selectively quote and collectively celebrate today is a much different man than the man Dr. King was when he was alive.
Much of what we are told about Dr. King today is a sanitized version of the man, meant to deify him in the public’s mind. This is not to say that Dr. King wasn’t what his public image is today almost 52 years after his murder, but like any historical figure, it is hardly the complete measure of his character and legacy.
Dr. King wasn’t the revered figure he is today when he was alive. In fact and in short, he was considered dangerous to the establishment, not just among white America, but among black America.
I’m old enough to remember the debate to establish MLK, Jr. Day as a holiday at the federal level in 1986 (it was a holiday in some cities and states starting in 1971) and the fierce resistance in our Congress and from some states in the mere idea of establishing a holiday in Dr. King’s honor. People tend to gloss over or completely omit how contentious just establishing MLK Day was 34 years ago, much less how the image of MLK, Jr. the man has been sanitized to make him more palatable to a broader audience.
For example, the day before his assassination, Dr. King was actively organizing anti-poverty protests and delivered a speech in Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. Many of Dr. King’s early and late works railed against capitalism and poverty and he was largely considered a leftist radical.
Be honest, is that the image of Dr. King Americans have of him today?
I find it ludicrously ironic that conservatives and liberals alike only selectively focus on his works and words concerning racism whist omitting his activism against the downside of capitalism and his anti-poverty efforts.
At any rate, I think we as a country should not just focus on Dr. King’s anti-racism activism. We should learn that our revered historical figures were hardly perfect men. Dr. King was considered a womanizer, confirmed by government surveillance of him that has since become part of the public record, but not proliferated in our modern media machine.
All of our martyrs are flawed human beings with many of the same faults and foibles that we mere mortals possess. However, men like Dr. King, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, etc. have the judgement of posterity on their side, and their great works transcend their mortal flaws.
The point I want my readers to come away with today is that we are all greater than our human faults and if we are good enough people, our accomplishments tend to outweigh our faults.
Dr. King’s accomplishments far outweighed his flaws, but we learn more about our heroes when we view them through the same lens with which we view ourselves than we do when we only view our heroes as historical martyrs, meant only to be revered.
We can better understand and appreciate men like Dr. King when we accept that they are just as human as we are.
-The Rational Ram