40 years, One day and the reconstruction of Dr. King’s Legacy

Inevitably April 4th will be marked all over the internet with folks interpreting King’s legacy. I look forward to reading these reflections, but I can’t help but find it ironic that we are able to tap into his true legacy more on his death then on the day that he has a nationally recognized holiday. As we contemplate a national holiday for another American giant, the issue of co-optation looms large. While it is beautiful to celebrate King’s legacy on the day that he was taken from us, it would be even more beautiful to take back his holiday to its true meaning.

Part of the reason that I think the holiday has become such a thorn in the side to folks with progressive politics is that Martin’s legacy has been distilled, sanitized, and re-packaged to be comfortable. There was nothing comfortable about what he called for and there was little that was popular about his opinion. Remember, just days after the March on Washington, four little girls lost their lives in Birmingham. But that will never make it in a McDonald’s commercial. That will never be the subject of a school play. But how do we remind folks, particularly Black folks, that Dr. King embraced a radical tradition, a tradition of challenge, a tradition of forgiveness, and a tradition of change?

For me, it starts with shattering myths that suggest we have reached the mountain top. It continues by entering the difficult conversations about race and poverty. These conversations will involve not only talking about structure but also how our own individual actions contribute to everyday inequality.It moves towards King’s vision when it goes from our heads to our hearts then to our hands.

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