Martin Luther King’s Radical Legacy, From the Poor People’s Campaign to Black Lives Matter
Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou ▪ January 15, 2017
“The only thing I ask is that they not take the freeways. Dr. King would never take a freeway.” So said Kasim Reed, the liberal African American mayor of Atlanta, in response to Black Lives Matter protests in King’s birth city last summer. Noted conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly has likewise postulated with great confidence that “Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest.” Reed and O’Reilly were quickly lambasted for their lack of historical accuracy: Martin Luther King, Jr., of course, led the iconic 1965 march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge and countless other acts of disruptive civil disobedience. But their sentiment reveals our popular misunderstanding of the life and legacy of America’s favorite civil rights leader.
Liberals and conservatives alike are quick to appropriate Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify their political aims and buttress their opinions of social movements. Corporations such as Apple have used his words and image to sell their wares, while pundits of all persuasions have invoked his name to browbeat younger activists and their tactics. Such is the case with Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), commonly known as Black Lives Matter (BLM). Often denigrated in public discourse, Black Lives Matter is the largest movement for racial justice since the civil rights movement of King’s day.