From soaring speeches to spearheading marches that would define a movement, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. will forever be a treasure trove of not only accomplishments, but lessons learned as well; in the 50 years since King first led marches from Selma to Montgomery there have been many strides and many defeats as well. The dismantling by the Supreme Court of key components of the historic Voting Rights Act, legislation born from the fruits of King’s own labor, prove that there is much work still left to be done.
The recent controversy of the critically acclaimed, (yet largely snubbed) film Selma, serves as a subtle reminder that there are many in the nation who are not ready to look at the man behind the myth. While “I Have A Dream” will forever live on as an inspiration for the principles in which this country should adhere to, in truth King faced a much harsher reality in the five years that followed it.
Having assisted in removing the barriers erected during the failed Reconstruction period, which prevented millions of Black Americans from accessing their Constitutional right to vote due to brutal Jim Crow era restrictions, he then turned his efforts to another injustice; America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Using his unique platform, he drew attention to the irony of Black soldiers being sent to fight overseas for freedom that they themselves did not fully have.
According to King, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
Stepping away from his perceived role of “passive preacher,” in the years before his death some would begin criticizing the Nobel Peace prize winner, upset that he had become an “uppity Negro” stepping outside of his bounds. Over the years the media has played a part in softening his true rhetoric, using him as a shining example against the “evils” of Black militancy that others like Malcolm X so openly embraced. Yet in truly diving into the past, both individuals served as different sides to the same coin, as Black Americans struggled to find a path that would finally lead them to a world where the injustices of our nation’s past could not follow.
“Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”
In retelling the story of King, his resilience should always be applauded. In the face of adversity, it must always be remembered that the true legacy of King was built upon the back of a man willing to do far more than simply deliver a fiery speech in the name of freedom, he was willing to fight and die for it.
It is because of this sacrifice, that an entire generation has been given a chance at fulfilling their own dreams; and for that, we are thankful.
Martin Luther King Jr. “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” [His Final Speech]