A Country Still Tragically Divided

Fifty years ago this coming April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered at age 38. Today he would have been 89 years old, and his legacy remains more relevant than ever. “The country is still divided by many of the same issues that consumed him,” writes John Blake in an excellent essay, Three ways MLK speaks to our time. ” In this moment of extreme polarization and “a social media landscape that pulsates with anger and accusations,” I highly recommend taking a few moments to reflectively read it:

“Every hero becomes a bore at last.”

That’s a famous line from the 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but it could also apply to a modern American hero: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As the nation celebrates King’s national holiday Monday, it’s easy to freeze-frame him as the benevolent dreamer carved in stone on the Washington Mall. Yet the platitudes that frame many King holiday events often fail to mention the most radical aspects of his legacy, says Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College and author of several books on the civil rights movement.

“We turn him into a Thanksgiving parade float, he’s jolly, larger than life and he makes us feel good,” Theoharis says. “We’ve turned him into a mascot.”

Many people vaguely know that King opposed the Vietnam War and talked more about poverty in his later years. But King also had a lot to say about issues not normally associated with civil rights that still resonate today, historians and activists say.

If you’re concerned about inequality, health care, climate change or even the nastiness of our political disagreements, then King has plenty to say to you. To see that version of King, though, we have to dust off the cliches and look at him anew.

If you’re more familiar with your smartphone than your history, try this: Think of King not just as a civil rights hero, but also as an app — his legacy has to be updated to remain relevant.

Here are three ways we can update our MLK app to see how he spoke not only to his time, but to our time as well: […]

Read the rest of the essay here.

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