In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’d like to highlight an important article by Deepti Hajela, entitled “Historians Fear MLK’s Legacy Being Lost.”
Following is an excerpt:
By taking on issues outside segregation, [such as poverty and U.S. militarism, King] lost the support of many newspapers and magazines, and his relationship with the White House suffered, said Harvard Sitkoff, a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire who has written a recently published book on King.
“He was considered by many to be a pariah,” Sitkoff said.
But he took on issues of poverty and militarism because he considered them vital “to make equality something real and not just racial brotherhood but equality in fact,” Sitkoff said.
Scholarly study of King hasn’t translated into the popular perception of him and the civil rights movement, said Richard Greenwald, professor of history at Drew University.
“We’re living increasingly in a culture of top 10 lists, of celebrity biopics which simplify the past as entertainment or mythology,” he said. “We lose a view on what real leadership is by compressing him down to one window.”
That does a disservice to both King and society, said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.
By freezing him at that point, by putting him on a pedestal of perfection that doesn’t acknowledge his complex views, “it makes it impossible both for us to find new leaders and for us to aspire to leadership,” Harris-Lacewell said.
To read Hajela’s article in its entirety, click here.
Image: Robert Shetterly
See also the previous Wild Reed post: Somewhere In Between