The Edge of the American West is one of those nice finds on the Internet. As we head into the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, I found their post on Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. (Again) to be worth sharing.
In the post, the writer Ari focuses on a King speech entitled The Other America that Dr. King gave weeks before his death. Ari writes:
By this time in his life, though, King openly expressed sympathy for those who embraced other means, for those who would not turn the other cheek:
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” That’s wonderful writing. But also: that’s not the MLK my son learned about in kindergarten last week or the MLK my students learn about in their textbooks.
Ari then moves on to talk about how the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, which was enacted over a great deal of controversy with the support of unions and corporate America, was finally approved, and he ends with this summation:
I wonder what Martin Luther King would think of his eponymous day. Of the MLK lesson plan — long on heroism, patriotism, and feel-good rhetoric but short on violence, non- or otherwise — in my son’s classroom. Of the fact that his holiday’s roots in organized labor have been completely forgotten. Of the painful irony that corporate sponsorship proved key in passing the law marking his birthday.
More than that, I wonder what those sponsors would think if they were transported back to Grosse Pointe, on March 12, 1968, to hear King deliver his “Other America” speech, including the line, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” I suspect they wouldn’t recognize that Dr. King. I wonder how many of us would.
Not your normal post around the MLK holiday, but it is important to understand the full dimension of King and his work. As a historian, I found the post worth the read and worth sharing. Recommended.
More to come…