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Remembering MLK's legacy and humanity

by Nicholas Mazur - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Apr 10th 2018 09:00 pm

p a lot of emotion for Americans, no matter who you are. Just to get it out of the way, yes, the “I Have a Dream” speech and all that. However, history has a way of erasing the nitty-gritty of most things, including Dr. King. The 50th anniversary of his assassination has just passed, and it seems a good time to look back at the man, the legend, his impact, and what the truth of him really was. Do we remember him as he was, or how we want to use him today? What is the ethical impact of that?

So to start, let’s give ourselves a little background on the man himself. King grew up in Georgia, where he watched his father suffer from “racial humiliation.” His father would whip him regularly until he was fifteen. When King was six, he had a white friend that he had to stop being friends with because of the boy’s father and the mandatory segregated schools. King also suffered from depression during his life. Once as a young boy, King threw himself out a second-story window after the death of his grandmother, according to Britannica Encyclopedia. King is also famous for being a minister like his father, but during his youth, he had serious doubts about Christianity, even denying the resurrection of Christ. Later, however, he would admit that there was truth in Christianity that he could not escape, and made it his vocation. 

During his later years of activism, King focused his efforts away from the boisterous, rampant racism of the south, and toward the quiet poverty perpetuating racism of the north. King hoped to tackle issues of race-based poverty and other issues like the war in Vietnam. King was labeled a radical for most of his life, and he was even monitored by the FBI, including during his extramarital affairs. 

That certainly seems like a starting point at least, doesn’t it? So, it seems that looking back, King was not the hippy dippy, “I Have a Dream” speech, non-violent protester that many people took him for. Nor was he the perfect soul we took him for either. King was someone who wanted to tackle issues that we still have trouble with today. He had affairs, He had depression. He was — dare I say it — human? Oh the horror! No, please! I don’t think my heart can take this news!

But seriously, we have this insanely stubborn tendency to misremember the way people were. When that happens, they tend to stop being people in our minds, and turn into these perfect specimens of angelic personage.

This doesn’t mean I think less of King (well, maybe for the affair stuff). In fact, I think more of him. People don't need to be perfect to be inspiring, they just need to do something — you know — inspiring. It is also important to note that when we look back on history, we look through a lens of progress that has been made since then. Yet King was tackling the problems of the time that people today still don’t want to talk about.

Conservative minds look back on King as a Ghandi-like figure — unwilling to use violence or disrupt. They think he has such a gentle composure that the Southerners could not help but stop being as racist. Yet if King were alive today, preaching about poverty and ghettos and gentrification and foreign policy, like he was back then, conservative talk would be far less praising of him than they are now.

My point is this: we should look back at King as he was, not who we want him to be. We do a disservice to the man, his cause and ourselves when we erase the true Dr. King, the flawed human being. His struggle seemed not to be one of America reaching perfection, but of flawed human beings connecting with other flawed human beings. We need to remember King not as an angel, but as a human being, and not just on his dreams, but his realities too. Only in both can we find someone who is truly worth remembering.

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