MLK Day 2020: Martin Luther King Jr Was More Than “I Have a Dream” Speech

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the United States marking what would have been the civil rights leader's 91st birthday celebration. (Photo: The MLK Memorial in Washington by Gediyon Kifle/Tadias archive)

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Forget the notion of MLK Jr. as ‘Dreamer,’ say activists.

The legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is often celebrated by conjuring his words spoken at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. His “I Have a Dream” speech has come to be remembered as inspired, rousing, and optimistic about race relations in America.

“With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” he said on that August day in Washington, D.C.

Increasingly, though, black Americans are calling for new ways to analyze and celebrate his legacy — more accurately.

“America has been comfortable with Dr. King the dreamer as opposed to Dr. King who articulates the American nightmare,” said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of the historic Mother Bethel AME Church.

The man who was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, at age 39, denounced racism, materialism, militarism. He predicted social ills would never be solved without fixing entrenched inequity. And he called out U.S. economic policy.

In fact, many activists who are asking today for reparations to repair the damages black Americans have suffered — a subject that last year rose to the level of presidential candidate debates — borrow rhetoric from King’s combative speeches…

In the next campaign on Washington, King said, “We’re coming to get our check.”

By 1967, King came to confess in an interview with NBC News correspondent Sander Vanocur: “That dream I had that day has, at many points, turned into a nightmare.”

Yet, said Solomon Jones, a host for Philadelphia radio station WURD and a columnist for the Inquirer, America has come to sanitize King’s ideas to prevent them from growing into a larger movement…

Philadelphia lawyer and activist Michael Coard, co-founder of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, said, “Anyone who reduces him to the 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech knows very little about him.”

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Related:

MLK’s Invitation from Haile Selassie in 1964 (TADIAS)

TADIAS Interview: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Photographer Gediyon Kifle

MLK’s Dream: An Ethiopian Perspective

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