Five Myths About Martin Luther King

  1. As the holiday bearing his name approaches, here are five myths about the civil rights icon.
  2. King believed in a color-blind society
    Since his death, King has emerged as a triumphalist figure, used to reassure us that the United States has transcended its history of racial strife. But King knew that the economy wasn’t color-blind, and he believed that the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts would not eliminate racial disparity.
  3. King’s dream was to end racism in the South
    King had not one dream but many. He placed the fight for African American equality within the larger struggle for international decolonization. For example, he was a staunch opponent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
  4. King was the natural antagonist of Malcolm X
    They actually have more in common than you might think. Both men’s political visions profoundly changed during their lives. And both men held a deep opposition to the war in Vietnam. King saw it as “a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit” and called for a global revolution against “poverty, racism and militarism.”
  5. King is irrelevant to Black Lives Matter protesters
    Ferguson, Mo., activist Tef Poe expressed this most clearly when he asserted that the new protests “ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement.” But a deeper river of struggle connects civil rights and black power activism to the movement for black lives today. The fight to end the criminalization of black protest, and of black people more broadly, lies at the heart of African American freedom struggles then and now.
  6. Without King, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have happened
    Frequently hidden from view by King hagiography is the work of female civil rights activists, including Ella Baker, Daisy Bates, Joanne Grant, Fannie Lou Hamer and Septima Clark, who helped build the human infrastructure of the movement. In the words of civil rights scholar Charles Payne, the movement was “Men led, but women organized.”
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