For the past three years, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, David Meyer, a sociology and public policy professor at UC Irvine, has reposted a piece on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insurgency and how this day ostensibly celebrating this man, his values, and his actions came about. King was not popular in his day, he was growing even more unpopular before he was assassinated, and even when Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday in 1983, there was large-scale ambivalence or worse (to put it lightly) about celebrating this man. Meyer writes:
The King holiday was about Martin Luther King, to be sure, but it was meant to represent far more than the man. King stands in for the civil rights movement and for African-American history more generally. I often wonder if the eloquence of the 1963 “I have a dream” speech winds up obscuring not only a man with broader goals, but a much more contested–and ambitious–movement.
Posterity has rescued an image of Martin Luther King, at the expense of the man’s own broader political vision.
Ironically, in elevating an insurgent to a position in America’s pantheon of historic heroes, we risk editing out the insurgency.
How do we not edit out the insurgency? My friend, Pendarvis Harshaw, models this beautifully in his piece, “Moms 4 Housing and MLK’s Case for Running ‘Red Lights.'” It is a sharp, incisive, and moving piece about the housing crisis in California and its impact on African-Americans in particular.