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King was not the “amicable Negro” people have created in their minds to soothe White guilt.
Most people highlight his calls for unity, nonviolence and choosing character over color. Mainstream media, politicians, liberals and conservatives have all taken part in whitewashing his legacy to fit a narrative palatable for a nation struggling with acceptance of its racist past and present.
Interpretations and excerpts from his famous I Have a Dream speech have been sampled more times than we can count, despite the fact that his dream has yet to be fulfilled.
Words and messages from King’s more radical discourse have been gentrified, misconstrued and sanitized to manipulate and evade justice.
“White Americans love to paint Dr. King as a passive, nonviolent Christian who had a dream and believed racial unity was possible if everyone worked together,“ said Candice Benbow.
“I Have a Dream.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“This King makes them feel good about their levels of inaction. Detaching Dr. King from his radical, socialist, left-leaning politics is the only way many Americans who now praise him can do so with (what they think is) a clear conscience.”
Dr. King was a radical leftist
Yes, he believed that racial unity and equality was possible and embraced White allies. However, when you examine Dr. King’s actions and his words, you’ll know that he carried the torch for truth and a “by any means necessary” Black agenda that many White people fought against then and, now. In its evolution, Dr. King’s “woke” philosophy is still frowned upon and ignored today.
Dr. King was the kind of radical that would not “wait” and did not mince words when pushing back on White moderates seeking to “set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”
In the Letter From a Birmingham Jail, King gave a message to White clergymen who criticized a protest he staged in the most racially segregated city at the time:
“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your Black brothers and sisters…then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
And in being keenly aware of the restrictions of racism and resistance to freedom, in being told to “wait”, King also told his followers, “… one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Dr. King was a democratic socialist
In today’s tense racial climate, people like to use King’s whitewashed legacy to condemn protests and marches. It’s that same tone of “wait” that whitewashes his legacy to minimize the systemic violence of racism, sowing complacency and resentment at those willing to risk their lives for justice.
Most people tend to ignore that Dr. King was the one who said “a riot is the language of the unheard,” and he was the one that led the march from Selma to Montgomery that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’
His radicalism is the kind that’s demonized and mischaracterized when it comes to liberating Black people–one that would be hated and labeled unpatriotic by people who want to maintain the status quo.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The book, The Radical King, describes him as a “democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies.” It goes on to say:
Martin Luther King, Jr., was the major threat to the US government and the American establishment because he dared to organize and mobilize Black rage over past and present crimes against humanity targeting Black folx and other oppressed people. When he said that the US government was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” he was not trashing America. He was telling the painful truth about a country he loved. King was never anti-American; he was always anti-injustice in America and anywhere else.
Push back against the whitewashing of Dr. King
Finally, Dr. King was unapologetic in his love for Black people and crusade for decency in humanity which is radical in and of itself. “He understood radical love as a form of death—a relentless self-examination in which a fearful, hateful, egoistic self dies daily to be reborn into a courageous, loving, and sacrificial self.”
To right this wrong, “We must honor MLK by honoring him,” author and historian Carol Anderson told Vox. “We honor him by not hijacking his words and twisting them to fit a white supremacist agenda.”
Tell the true stories of how Dr. King was radical and unapologetic in his mission to liberate Black people.
Work to correct a false narrative that his life’s work was complete by working to make his dream come true. Work to undo the whitewashing of a great man’s legacy of radicalism, love for humanity and demands for justice and equality.
We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by not hijacking his words and twisting them to fit a white supremacist agenda.