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As a child of the ’90s public school system in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Black History” was often a short rotation of a few legends the likes of Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the upcoming month of February is often used to highlight many of those same figures throughout mainstream media and education, no name has been run through the mud quite like King’s.
Just two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, wastefully paraphrased Martin Luther King, Jr. in invoking judgment of a person’s character over their skin in faux support of Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican.
Dr. King’s daughter doesn’t like term “people of color”
Rightfully so, Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice King, may recognize, like many Black Americans, that when America needed to be built for free, it was our enslaved Black ancestors they used — not people of color.
When politicians banned people the right to vote and made them guess how many jelly beans were in a jar, that was to restrict the Black vote — not people of color.
When America needed to build its highways, it destroyed Black communities across the US — not people of color.
This is not to suggest that people of color have not lived in the same neighborhoods as Black residents, nor does it mean they haven’t been disproportionately affected by the very ills we face; however, the problems faced by Black Americans are uniquely ours, and Dr. King understood that.
An expert orator, Dr. King understood the power of words long ago. He once said in part, “They couched it in language. They made everything Black ugly and evil, look at the dictionary and find the synonyms for the word ‘Black.’ It’s always something degrading, low, and sinister. Look at the synonyms for the word ‘White,’ it’s always something pure.”
While Dr. King’s legacy stands atop the mountain alone as the LeBron James of civil rights leaders, it hasn’t stopped naysayers from bastardizing his name.
After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, Bernice King told Jimmy Fallon, “In ’68, my father was one of the most hated men in America, and now he’s one of the most loved men in the world,” she said. “So much so that people do take liberties and kind of take different quotes to fit their situation, and nothing is more frustrating for me than that.”
One of the most misquoted parts of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech is that “little Black boys and Black girls join hands with little White boys and White girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”
Conservatives often use this nugget to claim King wanted us to live in a colorblind society. But he didn’t. He only suggested our society would be better if that mutual respect were there.
Dr. King on Reparations
Though Americans at large have heard the same Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes again and again, few knew his thoughts on topics which have persisted for generations, such as reparations.
Dr. King once talked about reparations for newly freedmen, stating, “It’s like having a man in jail for years and years and then you suddenly discover this man is innocent, you go to him and say, ‘now, you are free.’ The man has been unjustly jailed for 35 or 40 years, and you just put him out of jail, saying, ‘now, you are free.’ You don’t give him any bus fare to get to town, no money to buy any clothes, no money to get something to eat. This is what happens to the Black man in this country.”
“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will live forever
As GOP elected officials work to ban education and anything considered “woke,” King, Jr. defiantly lived a life and left a legacy of resistance through activism, spirituality, peace for all and accountability for opposers of progress.
While Dr. King’s words have been warped to fit narratives and agendas he himself would never agree with, we will continue to honor the man, who in a matter of years, changed the world forever.