Updated: Feb 6, 2021
By: Cliff A. May
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) but it is often less effective or wasted by focusing on the more positive side of his him. As we all know, MLK was a civil rights hero and legend who was responsible for organizing African-Americans into a political force that resulted in several civil rights acts and other laws.
These federal laws were passed to protect African-Americans from racial discrimination when it came to education, housing, employment and bank loans and to help them be integrated. One of the most important federal laws passed during the Civil Rights Movement was one that gave them the right to vote for a second time.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 allowed African-Americans the right to vote without the fear of murder, intimidation or bizarre voting tests that had been used since the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870 to give freed African slaves the right to vote.
With MLK's leadership, Jim Crow laws were abolished, allowing integration laws to be introduced nationwide. It was amazing accomplishment at the time, considering most of these laws had been in place since the first slaves arrived in 1619.
With these laws and policies passed on the federal level by presidents and Congress, MLK and those that worked with him had become effective in their mission to bring African-Americans a step closer to equality.
However, what is often missed by MLK is how white America did not love him while he was alive or shortly after his assassination. MLK was treated like every other African-American fighting for equality in America, he was treated like and often called a terrorist, unamerican and numerous racial slurs.
In public spaces walking to make his speeches or to meet with his people, he was often the victim of assault by white mobs throwing objects at him while telling him to get out of town and being called racial slurs. Toward the end of his life, as he began to speak out against the Vietnam war and the younger activists began to stray away to more aggressive tactics, MLK was at his lowest approval rating in the country.
As far as his legacy, MLK quotes are often misinterpreted or overlooked to fulfill a nicer, more convenient belief of his work and what he stood for. This is often used to pacify white privilege or to undermine the continued struggle of African-Americans still fighting for equity and equality.
Below are a few samples of his often ignored quotes that do not fit into his all-loving and passive legacy as a modern-American activist and icon.
"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
"Today's expression in Montgomery is the expression of 50,000 people who are tired of being pushed around."
"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us."
No matter how people try to frame MLK, he will always be a revolutionary leader of his time to those who take the time to research him and his work. Just knowing that every day he woke up knowing he could be killed by white mobs, police or the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) via their cointelpro, was a testament to his dedication and love for his people and democracy.