The Forgotten King: Commentary on protest, race, and MLK

Ken Makin in The Christian Science Monitor:

There is an unholy invocation that rises from some Americans in times of racial distress. It is an exclamation from the voices of the status quo, the clarion call of conservative thinking: What would Martin Luther King do? It is as unauthentic and uninspiring as it is ambiguous – and that is the point. Reducing Dr. King’s understanding of racial and social issues to a warped perspective of the “I Have A Dream” speech is propagandist and ahistorical, but it has worked.

It is easy to celebrate the “I Have A Dream” refrain and the final paragraph of Dr. King’s speech from the perspective of all lives matterAnd when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

But what about black lives? How would Dr. King feel about the modern-day anti-police-brutality protests? How would he respond to the deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and so many more? Long before he declared that a riot was “the language of the unheard,” he spoke about black unrest. Where? In the “I Have A Dream” speech:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

More here.