I believe that today’s popular view of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ignores his complexities. At the time of his assassination he was considered a pariah. By taking on issues outside of segregation he had lost the support of many magazines and newspapers. By opposing the Vietnam War his relationship with the White House, once cordial, had become strained, and the FBI considered him a dangerous communist. He took on the issues of poverty and militarism in an attempt to make equality something real.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University, wrote: “It is important for us to remember how disliked Dr. King was in 1968. If we forget that, then it might seem like the only people we can get behind must be popular.”
I believe that many of us remember his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but a precious few of us can go beyond that one sentence. We know he had a dream, but do we know what that dream was? At the time of his death, Dr. King was working on anti-poverty and anti-war issues. In the five years after his August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he was introduced as the moral leader of the nation, he had come a long way. Dr. King had publicly spoken out against the Vietnam War in 1967 and was in Memphis in April 1968 in support of striking sanitation workers when he was assassinated. Many who celebrate his legacy today abhorred him for these views while he was alive.
It would seem that the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, had a personal vendetta against him, to the point of publicly proclaiming him to be the most dangerous man in America and a full fledged communist. Dr. Richard Greenwal, professor of history at Drew University writes, “We’re living increasingly in a culture of top lists of celebrity biopics, which simplify the past as entertainment or mythology.” We lose a view on what real leadership is by compressing our heroes, such as King, down to one window. Professor Harris-Lacewell concurs by adding that “this does a disservice to Dr. King and society … by putting him on a pedestal of perfection that doesn’t acknowledge his complex views.”
I was a teenager when Dr. King was assassinated and that day will live for me in infamy. Dr. King believed that it was wrong for young black men to die in a war in an attempt to provide rights for others which were denied to them back in their homeland.
From a very young age, reading became my favorite pastime. Growing up on Roatan I would read from cover to cover the US magazines that the seamen or sailors would bring me, magazines detailing the civil rights movement. I was privileged to read all about Dr. King’s struggles, and I was aware that he was lambasted for his anti-poverty and anti-war views. Later in life, I was privileged to serve on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Committee in the state of Massachusetts for several years, a role that provided me with incredible insights into the life of a real time hero.
A wise man once said, “The best anyone can hope for is to set a good example and be an inspiration for history.” Using that criteria, Dr. King’s legacy is genuine and will live on: In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights efforts, efforts which continue to inspire today. I admire Dr. King for standing up for what he believed to be right. In fact he once remarked, “The time is always right, to do what is right.”
His dream of individuals being judge by the content of their character as opposed to the color of their skin has still not been realized in some communities in the Bay Islands. But that is the story for another time. The recent election of Senator Barak Obama, the first African American President of the United States, is directly related to the civil rights movement attributed to the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hopefully Obama’s election will have worldwide implications.
Dr. King changed the course of history; he made a difference. He succeeded against insurmountable odds. We all need heroes, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Winston Churchill are two of mine. Long live the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May his legacy continue to inspire future generations. [/private]