The annual whitewashing of MLK’s legacy has commenced, but we’re here to remind you what he was really all about.
It’s that time of year again. That time of year where everyone wants to usurp the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr for their own nefarious purposes. Individuals who, when King was still alive, would readily lambast and denigrate the name of a Great American for the sake of selfishness and demagoguery.
In 2018, Republican Steve King of Iowa, the same guy who asked what was so bad about white supremacy, posted a quote to his Twitter account stating how Dr. King discussed getting to “the promised land.”
He says this, despite being as far right as an elected official can be on racial diversity in public spaces.
That same year, former Rep. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin posted an MLK quote on his Twitter account, despite pushing a voter ID law that is considered racially-motivated and anti-black.
And VP Mike Pence said King was “a great American leader who inspired a movement & transformed a nation.” However, that “movement” has been pushed back decades by policies championed by Pence and like-minded individuals.
To that point, and like clockwork, recently Vice President Mike Pence stood before an audience of supporters to recreate history in the name of hatred as he spoke of President Donald Trump’s hateful strategy to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
He had the gall to compare Donald Trump and MLK in the most clumsily constructed attempt at gaslighting that I’ve ever seen in my decades on this planet.
And, yet, because it came from the White House there will be millions chomping at the bit to recite these nebulous ponderings as something worthy of discussion.
But, it must be stated, that this is par for the course when dealing with individuals who have no interest in actually telling the truth but reconstructing it to suit their purposes.
On the scale of human decency, MLK is to Trump what Hellen Keller is to Hitler.
Yet, when morality is twisted in the name of a white supremacist worldview, diametrically opposed talking points become melded out of convenience.
Currently, MLK is immortalized in stone at West Potomac Park near the National Mall in DC, and the moment that long-imagined dream became a reality we began to see an immediate push to smooth out Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy so that it could be digested by the mainstream.
Truth be told, MLK was a radical proponent for social change from the very beginning. But, if the thoughts of some are to be taken as fact, his struggle was for the complete amalgamation of black folks into the mainstream.
As children growing up in the mid-80s weened on re-runs of Alex Haley’s Roots on PBS, my siblings and I would bristle at the very idea that anyone would allow hateful strangers to pelt them with rocks, fists, batons, and dogs, yet not retaliate.
Raised by a street-smart single mother, those thoughts seemed foreign and abhorrent to us.
Terms like sacrifice and non-violent protest didn’t even register in my contemporaneous sphere.
My Momma had taught me very early to “not ever let nobody put their hands” on me. My oldest brother Chuck, a master of fisticuffs in our childhood, would seek out bullies to pummel.
And the juxtaposed philosophies brandished by my family and the nonviolent legacy of MLK just didn’t mix.
Indeed, one cannot expect for common folk blinded and frustrated by the static state of racism in America to eternally take the high road.
People are just people, a complex amalgamation of all their traumas and triumphs bound together by DNA and empowered by love.
It’s nearly impossible for the abused and downtrodden to fathom such a concept as love in the face of hate without a sterling example.
MLK was that example.
What Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy was about was love. The love he had for black people meant that he was aware of how disastrous widespread, anti-racism violence perpetrated by black radicals would be for America as a whole, and black people in particular.
It was love that made him accept the punishment, the criticism and even the pain of being abandoned by would-be allies WITHIN the Black Church structure when he began to pivot toward economic activism to combat poverty.
Love that made him work tirelessly, traveling constantly and spending weeks at a time away from his wife and children.
It was love that took him to the slums of Chicago and Watts, where he faced blistering criticism for his nonviolent approach from predominantly black crowds, and it was also love that made him get up and answer the call to help the black sanitation workers of Memphis in their time of need.
He showed up and was assassinated, despite prior warnings that his life was in danger.
On this day, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr the man, not the myth or the statue.
Martin Luther King Jr was a man who feared for his life and the safety of his family but pressed on.
Martin Luther King Jr was abandoned in his time of need by former allies. Martin Luther King Jr was not fearless, but he pressed on, not unbreakable, but he marched on, and not infallible, but struggled on despite his personal fears and demons.
The self-sacrifice he exhibited cannot be overstated, particularly so when there are race-based threats to democracy that are looking to smear away the truth of his existence.