If asked today, many people know bits and pieces of the famous “I have a dream” speech, yet only a smaller portion of these people have proper knowledge about the man behind it: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King was an African American minister who was just what the doctor ordered during the civil rights movement.
This movement happened to abolish racial segregation and fight for equality for African Americans through nonviolent protests.
At the forefront of these protests was King.
One of Kings’ first achievements during this movement was ending racial segregation in transportation through the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This only came to be after 381 days of nonviolent protests by Black communities.
This event served as the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement.
King later led several protests to address various issues of racism and segregation in the United States.
He was considered a dangerous radical during these times and was continuously monitored by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“His personality, charisma, and nonviolence shaped the civil rights movement more than anyone,” said Dr. Dan Puckett, a professor of history at Troy University. “Too many people have made him a comfortable fallback for not addressing issues of injustice.”
Although King preached nonviolence, he constantly advocated for direct action if negotiation failed.
Today, many people refer to a version of King that seems palatable and non-threatening.
“The most common misconception about Martin Luther King Jr. occurs when people ignore significant parts of his beliefs, message, and actions,” said Dr. Kathryn Tucker, a lecturer in Troy’s History Department.
“He absolutely fought for peace and unity, but he also strongly condemned parts of the system that produced oppression and inequality, such as economic injustice, police brutality and even the Vietnam War.”
King actively worked to create fundamental change in the way society functions and is structured.
King’s famed “I have a dream” speech won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, several of his other pieces ask people to take a stand against injustice.
“Many people would only refer to the comfortable things that King said and often ignore the uncomfortable,” Puckett said. “The same thing which is currently being said about the Black Lives Matter Movement was said about King.”
“Our nation today rightly celebrates and honors King for his actions, beliefs, and contributions, but in turn often overlooks how much of society fought against or disapproved of King in his lifetime,” Tucker stated.
“His fight against racism, militarism, and poverty faced massive challenges from all levels, which in turn leaves an ongoing legacy in society today.
“Remembering King in all his complexity and even radicalism, rather than watering down his life and message, would help us better understand our nation and society.”