Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by educating yourself

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Maddy Truka

Photo illustration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his "I have a Dream Speech."

By Kathryn McAuliffe, Parkway West High School

On this day celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you’ll no doubt find your social media streams flooded with his unmatched diction cast on pretty backgrounds, his words reduced to a mere Instagram story, Facebook post or tweet that will be forgotten in a day. Martin Luther King Jr. is rightfully praised as a crusader for justice and civil rights today, however, few people have the insight into the treatment of him and the true gravity of his mere existence.

Dr. King was labeled an enemy of the state during the reign of J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the FBI, a menace to society and a threat to the American government, values and society. His condemnation of US action in Vietnam was made clear in a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” This act of civil expression and disobedience led 168 major newspapers to denounce him. Many criticized Dr. King for veering “out of his lane” by straying from civil rights to US foreign policy. 

The intense criticism he faced was not limited to the media, however. Government surveillance and discrimination of Dr. King was a blatant and textbook definition of intrusion. The FBI sought to intensely monitor the actions of Dr. King as they saw his influence as subversive to American stability. At this time, our government sought security over progress and American people blindly fell in line with these ideals.

While time has passed, it remains true that these are the same institutions, papers, parties and groups that today praise his bold action, commodifying him into a mainstream leader of the war on civil rights that the government quickly resolved. It is forgotten that Dr. King was a true radical, an enemy of the state, an extremist, a Black nationalist and more. It is forgotten that our very own government called Dr. King a liar and sent him a letter urging him to commit suicide. It is forgotten that the majority of American society detested the civil rights movement and all that Dr. King stood for as a whopping 72% of Americans at the time had an unfavorable view of Dr. King. America’s revisionist history of Dr. King showcases a great man who achieved great things but highlights nothing of the deplorable injustices he faced for wanting equality. 

In the spirit of Dr. King, America must do better. America needs to do more than just share a post to honor his legacy. Considering the severity of the opposition Dr. King faced while grappling for equality, his legacy and achievements deserve more of our attention. America must educate themselves on what he faced and criticize the injustices we see in our own life. Attending celebrations, marches and movements where his work and ideas–not single sentence excerpts of his speeches–are the focus is a good place to start. In the St. Louis area there are many events dedicated to a more thorough honoring of his legacy. Educating friends, family–well, anyone–on the injustices perpetrated by the US government and faced by Dr. King is a way to create positive progress and change. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrate by living with his spirit. We must criticize injustice, challenge solidified thought and stand up to systems of oppression. 

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on January 20, 2020.