Thursday, January 15, 2015

MLK: Understanding His Legacy

Today January 15, 2015 is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  During this time period we celebrate the memory of Dr. King and give thanks, praise, and pay respect to one of the most important men in American history.  The accomplishments of Dr. King cannot be overstated.  His contributions to black people, civil rights, and humanity helped to change a nation.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. King, a man who struggled, fought, and ultimately died for what is right.  Those of us who respect his accomplishments must make sure that his legacy lives on.  A legacy that some seek to trivialize, diminish, and even commercialize.  There are many who seek to marginalize Dr. King.  There are many who seek to minimize what he has done.  There are some who seek to deify Dr. King also.  But what is most troubling is that there are far too many people who simply do not truly understand the depth of Dr. King or the importance of what he sought to accomplish.

There are many who seek to dumb down the legacy of Dr. King.  With each passing year we lose more and more substance.  Dr. King's vision has been reduced to a utopian fantasy.  His work has been reduced to marching, hand holding, and singing songs.  His words have been reduced to catch phrases like "Free At Last" and "I have A Dream".   Dr. King in many ways has been reduced to slogans and catch phrases.  Not only it is disrespectful to the man but it does a disservice to all of us who honor his memory.

No one speaks of the Dr. King who spoke out against economic injustice.  No one speaks of the Dr. King who spoke out against American Imperialism.  No one speaks of the Dr. King who was labeled "The Most Dangerous Negro in America" by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.  No one speaks of the Dr. King who was hounded, harassed, taped, and threatened by the United States government.  No one speaks of the Dr. King who fought to politically empower Black Americans.  No one speaks of the Dr. King who spoke against both political parties and rallied against systemic racism.  These aspects of Dr. King are very rarely discussed.

While we pay respect and seek to understand his legacy we must also be careful not to deify Dr. King as well.  We must remember that Dr. King was not a saint or an angel.  That he was a man, as flawed as any other.  It was his ability to rise above his flaws and failings that made him great.  It was his ability to overcome his personal weaknesses that made him the man he became.  We must accept all aspects of Dr. King if we are truly to understand his legacy.

Dr. King is more than "I Have a Dream".  He is more than "We Shall Overcome".  As we pay respect to this great man let us continue to strive to understand the fullness of Dr. King's legacy. Please take the time out to learn about Dr. King.  Study his dream.  Study his work.  Study his legacy.  We owe him that.  We owe ourselves that.