This was posted on MLK Day 2020 – reposted here
Dr. Martin Luther King
Dr. Martin Luther King remains one of the most iconic civil rights activists in American history and around the world. He touched millions of minds and hearts through his peaceful marches, dialogues and actions. In 1963, he led one of the largest peaceful marches, known as the March on Washington, to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., where he delivered his prominent speech, “I have a dream.” Dr. King’s movement is now taught in every history and civil rights class, and he is portrayed as one of the most significant figures who pioneered the fight for equality among Black and White people. However, when it comes to the March on Washington and the “I have a dream” speech, students are only taught parts of the purpose of that movement, to control the narrative and ensure the focus remains only on two specific aspects of the movement: segregation of Black and White Americans, and (casual) racism. I say “casual” because the other form of racism is the one governments don’t want you to discuss, the very racism Dr. King was fighting, the type of racism that sprung generational wealth: systemic racism. The March on Washington was much greater than surface segregation of Black and White people, and racism against Black people; it was much grander than dreaming of one day seeing White and Black brothers and sisters hold hands. In honour of Martin Luther King Day, I decided my first blog post would pay tribute to one of the greatest North American civil rights activists that came to be, Dr. Martin Luther King.
Segregation and Racism
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of a dream he had in which his “four children would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He went on to describe his dream of one day seeing all Black men and women having equal rights as the White men and women had. This message is now narrated in a way that reinforces the idea that the problem lied within the American people. Surely, President JFK and his administration, followed by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, could not have possibly been part of the problem considering they were Democrats, right? Dr. King knew that racism stemmed beyond a simple White American farmer in the middle of somewhere-town, Alabama. This was a systemic problem of nepotism, controlling the masses and capitalizing on people’s emotions, fortunes and misfortunes.
The March on Washington was a message to the government listening behind the scenes as much as it was to every American. It was addressed to both parties because both were (and still are) complicit in systemic racism: Republicans expecting Black people and other people of colour to “lift themselves by the bootstraps” knowing full well the generational white wealth to which previous and current government administrations of that time contributed would set minorities back significantly; and the Democrats, who revel in control of the masses, reinforcing the idea of victimhood on people of colour so that they can continue to feel helpless without the hand of the Almighty (Democratic) government. That is the cyclical system; the racist system into which we all play. It was not enough to tell people just to “stop being racist,” and Dr. King knew this. We’re talking about centuries of ingrained ideologies. There was no way this was something that can be fixed overnight. But there was one thing of which Dr. King was certain: change trickles down from the top. And so began his peaceful Civil Rights movement, which led to the March on Washington, a march that would shape the path to equality and human rights.
When we think about segregation and racism today, we can see that one of the two has been abolished to an extent: segregation. But what about racism? Why is this still an issue today? Segregation is a physical barrier that can be controlled by law and order; however, racism is abstract, more like a feeling and a question of morale. Many factors influence racism that go beyond one’s skin colour. We see this to be especially true today as North America continues to diversify; for example, new colours, ethnicities, cultures, stereotypes, stigmas and other factors introduced into communities influence one’s judgement and behaviour toward others. Dr. King spoke of one particular factor that made it difficult to defeating racism in his many speeches: social classes and how they influence one’s view of an individual or a community. The poorer one was and the poorer one lived, the more likely they experienced discrimination. Furthermore, the darker one’s skin in addition to living in poverty, the more likely one would experience racism, making it more difficult for one to rise out of poverty. This is when his dream began to shape into a nightmare.
The Poor People’s Campaign
“If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty and the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.“Dr. Martin Luther King
The 1963 March on Washington was merely the beginning of a civil movement that would shake American soil, disrupting all those who were coasting through life and raising those who were ready to effect change for a better life. It started with Black people demanding basic human rights, rights that had been denied to them for centuries as they were treated like cattle and sometimes worse depending on the State. This movement eventually evolved as Dr. Martin Luther King expanded his movement to fight the social class, poverty, as a whole regardless of race. Surely, there was no doubt that Black communities were stricken by poverty more than others, but Dr. King knew poverty affects people of all races which led to the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.
The Poor People’s Campaign which runs to this day (almost 51 years later), was a movement that was meant to force the President (Lyndon B. Johnson at the time) and Congress to support poor communities around the country by helping bring jobs and ensuring everyone had basic human rights such as healthcare and housing. This campaign was meant to unite everyone from every race who was experiencing poverty to call out the government for its favouritism and corrupt policies on so-called equality. He called the government out for handing out free land and millions of dollars of funding to the West and Midwest while the “White people from Appalachia, the Hispanic and the Black people in the rest of the country” remain poorer than ever, without jobs, without healthcare, and without proper housing. In all these years of civil rights activism, one could say that this was the epitome of Dr. King’s movement; the fight against poverty and bringing equality across the nation.
This multiracial coalition was an issue for the government, regardless of the party colours governing at the time. After all, a government capitalizes on human emotions and misfortunes; it’s when they feel most relevant. If people began to lift the curtains to expose corrupt government bodies instead of focusing on superficial and surface racism and discrimination, then a lot of powerful people would see the end of their reign. Of course, this is all speculation and my opinion (as well as many others); however, how coincidental would it be that Dr. King would be assassinated just as he united all races peacefully to fight a common enemy that is poverty? Alas, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, and never had the chance to see his movement come to fruition.
Honouring Dr. King’s Memory
The history of Dr. King was written with crucial details left out so that people only remember one of the three evils against which he fought (racism). Since his assassination, schools have taught a baseless quote on repeat so that students know enough not to question, but not enough to understand the full truth of Dr. King’s mission. That’s not to say that his work, his speeches and his history are not readily available. It would seem, however, the words, “I have a dream,” repeated over and over again, is inspirational enough for many that they do not question the basis of that dream and how it eventually became Dr. King’s nightmare shortly before his assassination.
I wrote this piece because I wanted to bring awareness to Dr. Martin Luther King’s full mission. His message is as important today as it was over 50 years ago. He may not be here today to see the progress that has been made since his movement began; but, his legacy lives on and it is up to us to continue bringing about positive change and equality in our nation. On Martin Luther King Day, I ask that you join me in honouring his memory by reading his whole story and learning about his fight against the three evils: Racism, War and Poverty.
Did you know?
- MLK’s birth name: Dr. Martin Luther King was born Michael King Jr. His father, also named Michael King, traveled to Germany during the rise of Naziism and was inspired by the Protestant Reformation Leader, Martin Luther, that he legally changed his name and that of his son’s to Martin Luther King in 1934.
- His education: Dr. King was extremely gifted that he had skipped grades nine through 12 and was enrolled at Morehouse College by the age of 15. He earned a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and was ordained before even graduating. He later earned a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. In 1955, Dr. King earned a doctorate (PhD) in Systematic Theology.
- His political affiliation: Dr. King didn’t officially endorse the Democratic or Republican party. He supported Franklin Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights and was fond of Nixon, but also vocally denounced Goldwater’s Presidential Candidacy. He also supported Johnson, but expressed his disappointment on how he handled the Vietnam War.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, August 21). March on Washington. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/March-on-Washington
- Barber, R. D. W., Co-chair, & Campaign, P. P. (2019, July 23). Martin Luther King Jr. said America was morally sick. We must heed his diagnosis today. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/martin-luther-king-jr-said-america-was-morally-sick-we-ncna837391
- Faces, M. (Host). (2017, May 16). MLK, JR: Unfinished business [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.usnewsbeat.com/2017/05/16/news-beat-episode-0001-mlk-jr-unfinished-business/