Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"King" of All Nations

Martin Luther King, Jr., American hero, is also an international icon. An op-ed in the New York Times describes Dr. King's influence both in the United States and in nations around the world. From the NY Times:

"Indeed, it was King’s 'I Have a Dream' speech that sealed his global fame. We’ve all seen photos of the hundreds of thousands marching in 1963 Washington. But thousands also marched that day in London, Tel Aviv and Accra, Ghana. In my home country, Britain, support for the march was overwhelming. Many watched King’s speech live via the newly launched Telstar satellite. In London, demonstrators marched to the American Embassy carrying a banner that read, 'Your fight is our fight.'"

The article continues by chronicling how King's influence has been used by parties the world over to advocate for causes that King would undoubtedly have supported and for those that he no- doubt would have quailed to learn his name was being invoked to support. For example, activists that support affirmative action often invoke King's legacy to support race-based remedies to resolve stubborn and persisting racial discrimination and racial inequality. Simultaneously, King's "dream" is used by those that would end affirmative action and race-based remedial programs by invoking his "color-blind" rhetoric as a signal that the era of race-based remedies should end.

Despite the contradictory messaging, it is clear that toward the end of Dr. King's life, with many civil rights advances secured, including passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, he turned his life and leadership toward economic opportunity and economic justice. Dr. King believed that our country would "reach the promised land" and lived his life trying to secure equal opportunity for all.

1 comment:

  1. It is important to note that toward the end of his life, Dr. King had also changed his approach to civil disobedience. If my memory serves me, he started to edge toward a more widespread disruption of cities and government. Before his death, he was planning to disrupt the national government by having his constituents occupy all the major bridges in and out of Washington D.C.

    In my recent civil disobedience class, we talked about the reasons he may have changed his style of civil disobedience. The consensus was that attacking poverty and equal opportunity is more difficult than attacking racial discrimination. With the Civil Rights Movement, King had very specific goals and there were concrete institutions that he could target. With equal opportunity, specific goals are hard to identify and the disparities in opportunity and equality cannot be attributed to one institution or policy.

    Charles Hall