Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born exactly 87 years ago, in 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Twenty-six years later, he would lead the 385-day Montgomery Bus Boycott alongside Rosa Parks. Eight years after that, he would help lead 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial where he made his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. Two years after that, he would lead the march from Selma, Alabama, after a bloody bout of state violence against the peaceful marchers. Three years later he would be assassinated by a nobody.
This is what we learned in our textbooks growing up. Our McGraw-Hill whitewashed narrative that, not only oversimplified the entire Civil Rights Movement as a beacon of peaceful activism, but absolved our government of any part in the murder of Dr. King.
So, naturally, we never read the letter sent by the FBI to Dr. King, blackmailing and encouraging him to kill himself. The letter, unsigned, in which the FBI threatened to release sex tapes they garnered through surveillance, read:
Naturally, we never read quotes that presented MLK as the anti-capitalist, anti-Vietnam War, pro-Black, woke, revolutionary that he was. Naturally, we never read quotes that presented our government as the racist, antagonistic, fearful body that plotted to kill MLK.
In remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let’s make sure we remember all of him. Not just the parts where he dreams, but the parts where he acts. Not just the part where he works with the Presidents, but the part where the Presidents work against him. Not just the part where he lives, but the part where he is murdered by his own government. Not just the part where his is glorified, but the part where his is vilified.
So, next time you want to use Martin Luther King’s advocacy of peaceful protest as a means to invalidate the civil rights riots across the country; next time you want to use Martin Luther King’s struggle for equality as a means to prove his probable support of #AllLivesMatter; next time you want to glorify a legacy you might not have stood with today had he not been killed by our government, remember his words:
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” –Dr. King
“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.” –Dr. King
“Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!” –Dr. King
And remember the words of those who opposed him:
“[Dr. Martin Luther King is the] most notorious liar in the country” –President Hoover
“Negroes are now just antagonistic and mad and they’re going to be mad at everything”- Senator Robert Kennedy to his brother, John F. Kennedy.
“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do … You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” –FBI to MLK, urging him to kill himself.
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy continues to be greater than what is allowed in our history books, greater than the confidence our government has in its people. This day is for all the civil rights leaders whose narratives, whose potentials for change, were cut short by the same government that attempts to celebrate them today. And as for MLK himself, let’s make sure to remember him completely and as he would have liked to be remembered:
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say… I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”
–Martin Luther King.