In honor of MLK, some dubious tweets & a lesser-known speech

Once again, today marks a day where folks who would never have supported Dr. King decide they should praise him

Stevie Wonder feeling the White House Bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr during a 2016 visit to the Oval Office
by White House Photographer Peter Souza

Another MLK day is upon us, and as usual, a lot of people who have taken positions antithetical to Dr. King are using it as a day to praise a man they most likely never would have supported during his life. As regular commenter Dude Kembro noted in today’s open thread, it’s important to recognize that Dr. King was a divisive future during his day. The last Gallup poll to measure public opinion on him found that, in 1966, it was 32% positive and 63% negative. To put that in context, a recent Civis poll on BLM found that 44 percent of respondents said they support the Black Lives Matter movement, 43 oppose it. 

Let that sink in for a moment: BLM is more popular today than Dr. King was three years after the March on Washington and one year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.1

The years since Dr. King’s assassination have been far kinder to the man. In death, he has become a revered national figure. This brings us to the first Tweet I wanted to share:

First, I highly recommend anyone with a Twitter account follow Nicholas Grossman, who beyond being an international relations and terrorism expert, is an editor on the excellent Arc Digital publication. I also think he’s entirely correct about this phenomenon. And here are a few Tweets2 and other media appearances as evidence to back it up.

To kick things off we have Senator Marco Rubio getting an “honorable mention” (seriously) for bucking the trend and quoting a section of the “I have a dream” speech that most Americans are unfamiliar with:

Devoid of its context, this excerpt seems to be a “feel-good” statement that applies to all Americans. However, it’s actually setting up a gut punch. Here are the sentences that immediately follow:

“This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'”

https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety

But that was 1966 you say, surely after the Voting Tights act was passed Dr. King would have seen his work as done. As we will see, Dr. King, even after the success of the Voting Rights Act, saw that debt as being far from paid in full (skip to the second half of this post for more on that). I’m not as confident that Rubio would agree that full passage or would think it continues to have policy implications today.

Still kudos to Rubio, or the staffer in charge of his Twitter account, for not going with the obvious line–they get points for the effort.

The same cannot be said for the new Governor of Virginia who kicked the birthday weekend on Fox News off by using that familiar passage from MLK’s “I have a dream” speech to defend his banning of Critical Race Theory (CRT)  in Virginia Schools:

“[I]n the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we’re called to judge one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” Youngkin said. “And that’s why there’s no place for critical race theory in our school system, and why, on day one, I’m going to ban it.”

As has been noted numerous times, the full text of the “I have a dream” speech would most likely fail most CRT bans (given its focus on racial inequality and discussion of structural racism). It, like many of MLK’s writings and speeches, helped create a foundation for CRT.

Despite his hard stance on CRT, Govorner Youngkin still marked today praising Dr. King and his legacy on Twitter. I wonder if he knew that Dr. King once had the audacity to say: “White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”

Here’s another example of Grossman’s argument via Senator Marsha Blackburn:

Blackburn, a fierce defender of the filibuster, might be surprised to learn that Dr King held a different position:

“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting. They won’t let the majority senators vote. And certainly they wouldn’t want the majority of people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people. In fact, they represent, in their own states, a very small minority.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/01/04/mlk-filibuster/

Blackburn also as recently as two days ago tweeted out her anti-CRT opinions:

We’ve already covered that topic above. So let’s move on to Texas Governor Greg Abbott:

In the last year, Abbott’s state was apparently inspired by Dr. King’s legacy to enact voting restrictions, audit the 2020 presidential election (to try to find malfeasance), and is currently facing at least 20 Voting Rights Act lawsuits (including one from the Justice Department). I suspect that Dr. King would have expressed some opinions on all of those actions.

However, this year, one Tweet rises above the pack for its tone-deafness. In fact, in terms of brashness, it might even top the moment, two years ago, when the Trump Administration chose MLK Day to release its “1776 Report”. Without further ado, I give you:

I’m not sure anything could prove Grossman’s point more than the agency that literally surveilled and harassed MLK during his lifetime–which internally branded him a domestic threat–celebrating him in death as an inspiration.

For me, beyond drafting this salty post, I’m celebrating today by revisiting one of King’s last speeches: The Three Evils of Society. Given in 1967, less than a year before his death, the speech captured how his mission had evolved in the four years since the March on Washington. I also remain convinced, with its discussions of structural racism and an inherent social bias against Black folks it most likely would be banned by the current crop of CRT restrictions. Take for example passages like:

“There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racism is still alive all over America. Racial injustice is still the Negro’s burden and America’s shame. And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation that is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans. We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations.”

King does acknowledge progress, while clearly articulating it hasn’t been enough:

“Now to be sure there has been some progress, and I would not want to overlook that. We’ve seen that progress a great deal here in our Southland. Probably the greatest area of this progress has been the breakdown of legal segregation. And so the movement in the South has profoundly shaken the entire edifice of segregation. And I am convinced that segregation is as dead as a doornail in its legal sense, and the only thing uncertain about it now is how costly some of the segregationists who still linger around will make the funeral. And so there has been progress. But we must not allow this progress to cause us to engage in a superficial, dangerous optimism. The plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower. And there is no area of our country that can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. Every city confronts a serious problem.

In fact King’s words feel especially relevant today:

Now there are those who are trying to say now that the civil rights movement is dead. I submit to you that it is more alive today than ever before. What they fail to realize is that we are now in a transition period. We are moving into a new phase of the struggle. For well now twelve years, the struggle was basically a struggle to end legal segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency. It was a struggle to get rid of all of the humiliation and the syndrome of depravation surrounding the system of legal segregation. […] The new phase is a struggle for genuine equality. It is not merely a struggle for decency now, it is not merely a struggle to get rid of the brutality of a Bull Connor and a Jim Clark. It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now.

At the time of the speech, “equity” was not being used in the same way it is today within the rights movement, but King’s words, in particular those I emphasized above, are incredibly similar to today’s understanding of the term. Those words, and others in this speech (not to mention his other speeches) also highlight the attention King payed to what we today term structural racism.

This was a dangerous speech to make then. It would still be a dangerous speech to make in many places of the US today. And that’s before we got the the other two of King’s Evils: poverty and war. You can find an abbreviated version of the speech at The Atlantic, the full text here, and a recording of the speech on Youtube (embedded below).

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the charge Dr King’s left us with (also from the speech):

“We’ve never made any gain in civil rights without constant, persistent, legal and non-violent pressure. Don’t let anybody make you feel that the problem will work itself out.”


1 – There is an argument that can be made towards the success of Dr. King’s work is that BLM at this moment is more popular than he was at the end of his life.

2 – Some eagle-eyed whatabouters will note that I didn’t highlight any liberals engaging in similar behavior. There just weren’t as many examples readily available today. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The left tends to secularize Dr. King and often doesn’t talk about how deeply his mission was tied to his personal faith. Likewise, there has been a trend to use explanatory phrases like “a riot is the language of the unheard” in ways that often imply it was a moral justification for violence. That was never Dr. King’s intent, and that is made clear in the original texts where the phrase is used.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Race and Politics, US Politics
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    At this point in my life, I look at Dr. King primarily as one of the greatest strategists of the 20th century and I do not think we’ve seen his equal in my lifetime in any domain (I was born in 1968) – at least not in the US.

    You mentioned that last opinion poll before he died. He was able to move the needle very far and set the stage for further progress after his murder despite being hated by much of the country. I think that illustrates, in part, what a master he was.

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  2. Dude Kembro says:

    @Andy: Yup. And the final polling on Rev. Dr. King was actually a 1968 Harris poll. It showed him with a now-shocking 75% disapproval rating, even worse than the ’66 Gallup poll.

    I grew up in the shadow of the King Center, so I’m grateful to those correcting the revisionist history around him, especially as promulgated by self-serving far right propagandists.

    Also nice to see the footnote here about the left’s soft secularization of MLKJ, which is why I often describe him as “Rev. Dr.,” a salutation common in the black church.

    Not unlike 19th century abolitionists, King’s liberal views (bordering on socialist at times) grew directly out of his commitment to Jesus’s teachings, principles now abandoned by the Evangelical right. That should be instructive. Many on the center-left rightly cite annoying, esoteric PC language and easily-demonized slogans like Defund The Police as politically damaging for Democrats. But left-wing hostility to faith traditions is at least as damaging, increasingly with people of color.

    Not all religious people are regressive. We should stop alienating such people; smart messaging can make inroads to include them in the pro-democracy coalition. MLKJ is a model.

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  3. Great post.

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  4. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dude Kembro: Thanks for the feedback and catching that footnote. Good point about “Rev. Dr.” title.

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks! I also thought you would appreciate that photo. The original is slightly less dramatic. In this version Souza made it black and white and opted for a tight cropping on the hand that I loved.

    @Andy:
    In terms of political activists, you will get no argument from me on your assertion!

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  5. Kathy says:

    There’s no service like lip service.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    The whitewashing of the Rev. Dr. King will continue.

    1
  7. Gustopher says:

    Likewise, there has been a trend to use explanatory phrases like “a riot is the language of the unheard” in ways that often imply it was a moral justification for violence. That was never Dr. King’s intent, and that is made clear in the original texts where the phrase is used.

    There’s also the subtext of the mere existence of a Malcolm X though. I don’t think you can hear that phrase without getting a quiet “you can either give people a voice and an opportunity to be heard, or deal with Brother Malcolm”

    The virtual deification of MLK and non-violence by the white establishment is part of an effort to bury Malcolm X and more direct confrontation as a footnote.

    As a white dude who would prefer non-violence directed at me and my kind, I’m thinking we need to make sure people have a voice without resorting to setting fire to their local CVS. I like order, and I’m willing to share the riches to maintain order.

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  8. Will says:

    It’s really not that complicated or insidious. Most conservatives want to live in a colorblind meritocracy. They believe King wanted the same. They believe BLM and CRT represent anything but. They are, by and large, neither cross-burning white supremacists nor moustache-twirling Disney villains.
    They do, however, react rather poorly to being called racists or accused of secretly or unconsciously harboring racist beliefs. It makes them vote.

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  9. ImProPer says:

    Great post. You did his legacy well with this. Admire the energy, and sincerity you always bring. Also really happy to see you taking an expanded roll here, looking forward to reading you more.
    That he was unpopular during his lifetime is unsurprising considering the zeitgeist, and the shameful tactics of the FBI.
    Fortunately things have changed. According to a recent poll by YouGovAmerica 9 in 10 now view him as positive. 67% very positive. 21% somewhat positive. 7% don’t know. 3% somewhat negative. 2% very negative.
    Now hopefully someone will let Little Marco know that it is safe to post full on MLK quotes next year.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m thinking we need to make sure people have a voice without resorting to setting fire to their local CVS. I like order, and I’m willing to share the riches to maintain order.

    “…watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
    A liberal, oh fanatical, criminal”

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  11. Mikey says:

    @Will:

    Most conservatives want to live in a colorblind meritocracy.

    They say they do, anyway.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Most conservatives want to live in a colorblind meritocracy.

    Provided that they are discovered to be most meritorious, of course. “All animals are created equal. Some animals are more equal than others.”

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  13. Mimai says:

    This post — the FBI part in particular — brings up a tricky question for me. When would/could/should we celebrate their, um, celebration of King and his legacy?

    As you rightly note, the FBI behaved terribly (!!!) wrt to King (and others). As did numerous agencies, federal and non-federal. And they should all be held to account.

    Assuming you leave ample room for the possibility of redemption, grace, etc (I think this is a safe assumption), your post strongly implies that the FBI is not yet deserving. I’m not talking about absolution, as they certainly haven’t atoned for past wrongs and continue to offend to this day.

    Rather, I am talking about this specific issue — a tweet celebrating King’s legacy. Your post indicates that you don’t think they have the “right” to tweet such a thing. What then would tip the balance from “how dare they” to “I’m pleased to see it”? Or more tepidly, as Chad might say: “okay”

    [Looking back on this comment, I see that the Calvinist is strong in me today.]

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  14. @Matt Bernius: I did notice and appreciate the photo!

  15. @Will:

    Most conservatives want to live in a colorblind meritocracy

    This is the claim. But, of course, meritocracy assumes everyone starts off with the same chances of success.

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  16. Dude Kembro says:

    @Will:

    They are, by and large, neither cross-burning white supremacists nor moustache-twirling Disney villains.
    They do, however, react rather poorly to being called racists or accused of secretly or unconsciously harboring racist beliefs.

    One need not be a cross-burning white supremacist to be an agent of white supremacy. Supporting voter suppression bills written to appease sore loser election lies intended to invalidate millions of black votes is quite enough.

    Those who do not want called racist, should stop acting like racists: waving the battle flag of slavers, smearing the first black president with racist birther lies, freaking out over black women appearing on American currency, scapegoating brown refugees, worshipping a president who tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020, cheering Tucker Carlson’s racist great replacement bile, and supporting Steve Bannon’s unapologetic white nationalism.

    How convenient that now Johnny-come-lately conservatives agree with Rev. Dr. King. Yet when King was alive, regressives told the exact same insidious, race-baiting, fearmongerimg lies about him they’re now deploying against CRT and BLM. Funny how that works.

    Liberals and decent Americans of all background are sick of this phony two-step. That’s why we flipped the White House, Senate, House, Arizona and Georgia blue.

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  17. Dude Kembro says:

    @Mimai: Just a few years ago, an unchecked cabal within the FBI worked to put a race-baiting orange birther into power. A leak at the FBI’s office likely tipped the election to this orange bigot in the race’s final days. To date, I don’t believe anyone has been disciplined.

    The scales will tip towards taking FBI’s phony paens to MLK seriously when we’re confident its rid of that cabal.

    So not any time soon.

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  18. Will says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Hard non-concur. If I need a person to fly a fighter jet or to do brain surgery on my child, I kinda don’t care what opportunities or disadvantages she had. I need her to position in her profession to be a function of her capabilities. Meritocracy. Leveling the playing field so nobody has advantages from birth is a separate agenda, and it’s not what I’m talking about when I describe how conservatives see themselves as being in line with MLK’s vision. They may be wrong, but that’s how they see it.

  19. Will says:

    @Dude Kembro: You’re kinda making my point for me.

    1
  20. ImProPer says:

    @Mimai:

    Not sure, but I think you might be referring to my post above. Your questions are good ones to ask and reflect on. Those that were behind cointelpro would be all gone now. I am believer in redemption and the power of forgiveness, as I have needed it in the past, and probably still will in the future. If I am honest :●) Having said that, I still believe the FBI to be corrupt, and as an institution of power, likely to continue to be so. However I am pragmatic enough to believe that even lip service to Dr. King is an improvement from the past.
    As far as Rubio is concerned, he seems to have even less conviction than Trump, who is at least unwavering in his narcissim. There is always next year to give an unedited quote, redeem himself, and become mid-sized Marco.

  21. James Joyner says:

    While I concur with all of this @Matt, I think it more widely true than just MLK. Few people who genuinely admire, say, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, or Jesus Christ himself are broadly familiar with the entire oeuvre of their beliefs, much less on board with everything they’ve written or uttered. Indeed, boiling them down to a few soft homilies is what makes them have a “prophet-like status.”

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  22. Matt Bernius says:

    @Will:
    First, thank you for engaging on this topic. I appreciate it.

    There’s a premise at the heart of your response that I need to contest:

    Most conservatives want to live in a colorblind meritocracy. They believe King wanted the same. They believe BLM and CRT represent anything but.

    The issue at hand is that these three sentences are ultimately in disagreement with the facts.

    The “colorblind meritocracy*” that most conservatives want is fundamentally not the same world that the Rev. Dr. King wanted. His writings (those cited above and beyond) make that abundantly clear. The colorblindness that most conservatives want is one that ignores the very existing racial divides that continue to this day and imagines most of the hard work is done.

    The Rev. Dr. King imagined a world so fundamentally changed through the hard work of racial reconciliation that it’s possible to be “colorblind.” That meant working to eliminate all the structural racism (yes the Rev. Dr. did discuss that dreaded structural racism) that Conservatives generally deny exists. That said, based on his writings, I also suspect that being color blind wasn’t so much “seeing race” as not having to make that part of the calculation of an individual.

    This is also why I went to the pains of showing the Rev. Dr. King’s philosophical alignment with CRT. I could do the same with BLM as well.

    This all get’s to that final highlighted passage from the “3 evils” speech:

    It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now.

    The Rev. Dr. King saw the first and the easiest part of the work towards his vision done. But he saw long work ahead… to the tone of spending billions (though today he would most likely say trillions) of dollars to fix the other underlying societal issues that would lead to his vision.

    The issue with your premise is that you cannot “believe” in his vision and not be willing to agree to the details of what it would take. Doing so reduces it to a platitude and empties it of all meaning (reducing it to a few sentences in just one speech).

    Put a different way, Conservatives saying they believe in a colorblind world and therefore the Rev. Dr. King would agree with them is not unlike the following proposition: I believe that liberals, like conservatives, want “what’s best for America.” So why can’t conservatives support liberal policies since we both want the same thing?

    Or it would be like saying that all one needs to follow the teaching and path of Christ would be to know and follow the “Golden Rule.”

    The devil is in the details and, if he were alive today, the Rev. Dr. King would be much more aligned with CRT and BLM than he would be with Conservatism.

    That’s before we get to the notion that any movement truly aligned with his vision would ever choose to support an individual like Donald Trump. Which gets to the unspoken conclusion of:

    “They do, however, react rather poorly to being called racists or accused of secretly or unconsciously harboring racist beliefs. It makes them vote.”

    If being called “racists” leads a group of people to vote for as racially divisive a candidate as Donald Trump, then I have to seriously question their commitment to a colorblind world in the first place.

    * – I’m going to not address the meritocracy part of your premise for two reasons: first, to my knowledge, Rev. Dr. King did not address the topic of meritocracy in his writings–at least as we currently understand it. And second, my deeply held belief, based on his writings, is that if we were alive today he would reject the premise that we are anywhere near a true meritocracy (see the excerpt from “3 evils” as an example of why).

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  23. Matt Bernius says:

    @Mimai:
    You raise a good point. I think it would be possible to move beyond the past for agencies that once attacked an individual. And I think your post contains the answer: starting the process of atonement and reconciliation.

    The process of atonement and reconciliation necessarily begins with the individual naming and owning the harm without excuses or qualifications. There are a lot of different version of what that looks like. Here is one as an example:

    1. Say you’re sorry. Not, “I’m sorry, but . . .”, just plain ol’ “I’m sorry.”
    2. Own the mistake. It’s important to show the other person that you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions.
    3. Describe what happened. The wronged person needs to know that you understand what happened and why it was hurtful to them. Make sure you remain focused on your role rather than deflecting the blame.
    4. Have a plan. Let the wronged person know how you intend to fix the situation.
    5. Admit you were wrong. It takes a big person to own up to being wrong. But you’ve already reminded yourself that you’re a big person. You’ve got this.
    6. Ask for forgiveness. A little vulnerability goes a long way toward proving that you mean what you say.

    https://www.grammarly.com/blog/how-to-apologize/

    Without taking those steps, I don’t think you have done the necessary work to earn the right to use someone’s words.

    Aside: I think one of our biggest challenges in any form of reconciliation is that we are not a culture that values a real and sincere apology. I suspect that is in part because truly apologizing requires us to unreservedly embrace the fact that we were in the wrong. Beyond not being taught to do that as children, far too many of us see that as a sign of personal weakness (when in fact its very much the opposite).

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  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    You’ll find no argument from me on that point James. Which is why I appreciated Neil Grossman’s tweet that kicked everything off. I also agree with you that the “prophetic club” he discussed is a lot larger than he suggested in the original tweet.

    1
  25. Matt Bernius says:

    @Andy:

    I look at Dr. King primarily as one of the greatest strategists of the 20th century and I do not think we’ve seen his equal in my lifetime in any domain (I was born in 1968) – at least not in the US.

    As I said Andy, I totally agree. And as I reflected on what you wrote last night, I think it speaks volumes about the fact that he, as a master strategist, realized that the work he had done to date was “the easy stuff”:

    “It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates…”

    For me at least, to the degree I’m engaged in this work, I actually find comfort in the thought that what we are doing now is the stuff that the Rev. Dr. King though would be the far harder work.

    @ImProPer:
    I really appreciate that. In all transparency, to this day I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome and it makes writing difficult for me. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t make it through my PhD. Starting writing here again was a scary test for me. Feedback like this makes drafting and building the courage to hit “post” much easier.

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  26. Not the IT Dept. says:

    For politicians like Rubio, MLK is no longer what he was in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He’s become a Celebrity (TM) and therefore something like a banner you capture from the other team and hoist on your side of the playing field to show you won something. MLK’s context means nothing to them. Crosses aren’t being burned on lawns anymore so everything’s fine now.

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  27. Mimai says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    I don’t have time to give this the response it deserves. But I did want to take a quick moment to say “thank you” for your characteristically thoughtful engagement.

    We’re on the same page about the process. Though on my best days I allow for a bit more wiggle room when it comes to the specifics, as well as a demonstration of “earning the right to { }.” Perfect – Good – Enemy.

    And I share your dismay (if I may) about our cultural aversion to atonement. I will add a (hopeless) wish for consistency in our application of such standards.

    1
  28. Will says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I don’t disagree with anything you stated here, other than that my premise disagrees with the facts. My premise was about how conservatives view themselves and MLK, not necessarily what’s accurate to history. The typical conservative’s understanding of MLK doesn’t go beyond the “I have a dream” bumper sticker, which would seem to support a colorblind society on a surface reading. In the conservative mind, the move from race-indifference to deliberately conferring specific advantages to protected groups based on their skin color is an unacceptable moving of the goalposts and is racism. Guys like Trump play this grievance like a fiddle. The fact that MLK didn’t actually put the goalposts there is only tangentially relevant.

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  29. ImProPer says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    We have that in common. Mine is due to a lack of formal education, and the modest one I did get is from the school of hard knocks. I have a pretty good life today though, in no small part due to folks such as yourself, so keep on hitting that post button.

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  30. Andy says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The devil is in the details and, if he were alive today, the Rev. Dr. King would be much more aligned with CRT and BLM than he would be with Conservatism.

    Maybe. This kind of prediction is inherently based on questionable assumptions – I would not want to try to guess how he (or anyone) would react were he plucked from the mid-1960’s and dropped 50+ years in the future.

    The issue with your premise is that you cannot “believe” in his vision and not be willing to agree to the details of what it would take. Doing so reduces it to a platitude and empties it of all meaning (reducing it to a few sentences in just one speech).

    This assumes there is only a single path to reach a goal and generally that is not true. And many disagreements in politics these days are as much about the process as they are about ends.

    And the thing about King is that pretty much everyone reduces his words to platitudes. You are an exception because you’ve actually done deeper research – most people cherry-pick what appeals to them. You already mentioned the attempts by some to use King to justify the rioting that occurred in conjunction with some BLM protests.

    It’s the same thing with most historical figures.

    And the high-level history that’s taught glosses over important distinctions and it’s no different with King. Let’s take nonviolence for example. King promoted nonviolence in his movement because he thought it was an effective tactic to achieve his ends (and he was right), not because he opposed self-defense or thought turning the other cheek was always the morally right thing to do. He understood how powerfully the images would impact society, and they still have that power today.

    And as I reflected on what you wrote last night, I think it speaks volumes about the fact that he, as a master strategist, realized that the work he had done to date was “the easy stuff”

    I wouldn’t call it easy, but I think he was correct that the next stage of his program would have been more difficult.

  31. Dude Kembro says:

    @Will:

    You’re kinda making my point for me.

    You have no substantive response to my point because what I said is true.

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  32. matt bernius says:

    So many thoughtful responses ya’ll! Much appreciated. In no particular order:

    @Andy:

    This kind of prediction is inherently based on questionable assumptions – I would not want to try to guess how he (or anyone) would react were he plucked from the mid-1960’s and dropped 50+ years in the future.

    Agreed. I’m not much a fan of the “pick and drop” mode of thinking. It is guesswork, but I’m proceeding on the thought line that either he would not be assassinated or he’d be time-shifted forward (i.e. came of age in the ’60s or ’70s). Either way, it’s definitely speculative.

    But hey, speculating is what James (doesn’t) pays me for: my sense is that King would not necessarily vibe with some of the excesses of the anti-racist movement (or the fact that some of its leading intellectuals aren’t as engaged in direct advocacy work). I think he would be more or less in line with the 1619 project. I expect he’d have issues with aspects of intersectionality.

    But I think in general he would still be aligned with most of the thinking behind BLM and CRT–or at the very least far more closely aligned with them than their critics.

    You are an exception because you’ve actually done deeper research – most people cherry-pick what appeals to them.

    Thanks. I also feel like I have so much more work to do to wrap my head around him and his role in the movement.

    This assumes there is only a single path to reach a goal and generally that is not true.

    Fair. My critique is more that (a) listening to popular conservatives many suggest that we’ve already achieved a colorblind society or that the major blocker to reaching it is in fact BIPOC people who refuse to acknowledge all the progress that has already been made, or (b) that colorblindness necessarily means that we have to stop bringing up existing problems within society. This is why I am of the position that the “colorblind” destination many conservative folks (not to mention non-conservative folks) imagine is a fundamentally different one than MLK imagined.

    I wouldn’t call it easy, but I think he was correct that the next stage of his program would have been more difficult.

    Good point. I should have said “easier” as he was speaking in comparison to what he saw laying ahead.

    @Will:

    My premise was about how conservatives view themselves and MLK, not necessarily what’s accurate to history. The typical conservative’s understanding of MLK doesn’t go beyond the “I have a dream” bumper sticker, which would seem to support a colorblind society on a surface reading.

    Got it. You get no disagreement from me there.

    In the conservative mind, the move from race-indifference to deliberately conferring specific advantages to protected groups based on their skin color is an unacceptable moving of the goalposts and is racism.

    Which was, ironically, one of the many lines of attack that Conservatives made on MLK during his lifetime. So to some degree, it’s “same as it ever was.”

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  33. mattbernius says:

    @Mimai:

    We’re on the same page about the process. Though on my best days I allow for a bit more wiggle room when it comes to the specifics, as well as a demonstration of “earning the right to { }.” Perfect – Good – Enemy.

    I appreciate this and try to keep this in mind. My time in the Criminal Legal System reform space has taught me a lot about partnering with folks that you don’t always see eye to eye with.

    That said, the larger and more powerful the organization or individual, the less leeway I tend to give them. And it’s entirely possible to support someone’s good work in one area while critiquing the way they show up in another.

  34. John430 says:

    In the last year, Abbott’s state was apparently inspired by Dr. King’s legacy to enact voting restrictions, audit the 2020 presidential election (to try to find malfeasance), and is currently facing at least 20 Voting Rights Act lawsuits (including one from the Justice Department).

    I have never seen any Democrat specify the “restrictions” of the new voting rights bill in Texas. All they do is throw the claim around. Here in Texas we know that Jim Crow is, and always was, a Democrat. I take simple pleasure in reminding Democrats that the fact remains…only 61% of Democrats in the House voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but 80% of Republicans did. In the Senate, only 69% of Democrats voted for the Act in contrast to 82% of Republicans. Were Dr. King alive today, he would likely claim to be a Goldwater Republican.

  35. mattbernius says:

    @John430:
    First, if you had followed the links, you would have found this following on your question from the Brennan center:

    Texas passed S.B. 1 this year, one of the harshest restrictive voting bills in the country. The law makes it harder for voters with disabilities and language access barriers to obtain assistance, constrains election workers’ ability to stop harassment by poll watchers, and bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting, among other measures.

    Texas legislators also introduced legislation this year that would have provided for the overturning of election results and that explicitly called for third party forensic reviews of the election results. footnote24_fbhjyl824 Even without authorizing legislation, the secretary of state’s office launched an unnecessary audit into the 2020 election in four Texas counties. Even though routine audits had already occurred, documents published by the secretary of state’s office would allow for a manual count of votes in those counties, as well as an examination of other election records and voter lists.
    https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-december-2021

    Additionally, in terms of your representation of the 1964 Civil Rights act, you once again post just part of the story. This tells only a portion of the story. Region, not political party, complicates this issue.
    Let’s dig into those numbers by party and region:

    Note: “Southern”, as used below, refers to members of Congress from the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War.

    “Northern” refers to members from the other 39 states, regardless of the geographic location of those states.

    The original House version:
    – Southern Democrats: 7–87 (7–93%)
    – Southern Republicans: 0–10 (0–100%)
    – Northern Democrats: 145–9 (94–6%)
    – Northern Republicans: 138–24 (85–15%)
    The Senate version:
    – Southern Democrats: 1–20 (5–95%) (only Ralph Yarborough of Texas voted in favor)
    – Southern Republicans: 0–1 (0–100%) (John Tower of Texas)
    – Northern Democrats: 45–1 (98–2%) (only Robert Byrd of West Virginia voted against)
    – Northern Republicans: 27–5 (84–16%)

    Regardless of party, Republicans and Democrats from the South overwhelming voted against the Legislation. In fact, if we’re looking really hard, Southern Republicans voted against the measure at a higher rate than Southern Democrats. But that misses the point that the South, both Democrats and Republicans, voted against the measure as a block.

    When you control for the South, Democrats voted for the measure at a higher rate than Republicans.

    This was a regional issue versus a Democrat versus Republican issue. And you would be fooling yourself to pretend that if the South leaned Republican at this time, the results would have been any different.

    But that doesn’t appear to fit your preexisting biases so you ignore this when I previously posted it.

    2
  36. matt bernius says:

    @John430:
    BTW, following your logic that a vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Act defines the party or state’s position on race, I’d love your explanation that Texas REPUBLICANS in the HOUSE and SENATE all voted against the 1964 Voting Rights Act?

    See: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/88-1964/h182 and https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/88-1964/s409 for the voting records.

    And then the Republican Party welcomed civil rights opponents like Strom Thurman into their party when Thurman left the Democrats due to this and other legislation.

    2
  37. mattbernius says:

    @John430:

    Were Dr. King alive today, he would likely claim to be a Goldwater Republican.

    LOL… I’d love to see what facts you used to make that statement, because, based on his actual writings I suspect that the Rev. Dr. King would find that comment funny considering the evidence he left us:

    The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called on all registered Negro voters yesterday to help administer a crushing defeat to Senator Barry Goldwater at the polls on Nov. 3.

    Dr. King said there was something deeper involved in the election than the candidacy of Senator Goldwater. He defined it as “Goldwaterism.”

    […]

    The civil rights leader estimated that Negro voter registration in the South had been increased by 800,000 in preparation for the election and that there were approximately 2 million registered Negro voters in the Southern states today.

    “If all the Negroes vote the same way, Goldwater would lose every Southern state but Mississippi and Alabama. Even the Good Lord could not win there,” Dr. King said.

    https://www.nytimes.com/1964/10/12/archives/dr-king-demands-goldwater-rout-urges-negroes-in-a-sermon-here-to.html

    Some of King’s other writings on Goldwater:

    It was both unfortunate and disastrous that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater as its candidate for President of the United States. In foreign policy Mr. Goldwater advocated a narrow nationalism, a crippling isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation.

    On social and economic issues, Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth century. The issue of poverty compelled the attention of all citizens of our country. Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated.

    On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.

    In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

    While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.

    Source: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/chapter-23-mississippi-challenge

    And MLK wasn’t the only one who saw this. Jackie Robinson had a similar reaction to Barry Goldwater.

    BTW, how did Goldwater vote in 1964?

    But other than all of those facts, I’m sure they would magically have become Goldwater Republicans.

    2
  38. Dude Kembro says:

    @John430:

    Were Dr. King alive today, he would likely claim to be a Goldwater Republican.

    “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism. The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Right, this sounds exactly more like Goldwater Republican, not like BLM and DSA and Democrats pushing to pass BBB. I’m assuming you do don’t do meth, so maybe you’re getting a contact high from the lab next door?

    Were king alive today lying, vote suppressing right wing racists would be smearing him as a communist, riot-inciting troublemaker just like they did when he was alive, tantruming as he dragged Trump Republicans for their hate, dishonesty, selfishness, and support of a fascist thug who launched his toxic political career with racist birther lies about the first black president, tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020, and then incited a QAnon #MAGATerrorist attack to destroy democracy and invalidate millions of black votes.

    The idea that had white racists not assassinated King he’d today be in opposition of 90+% of black voters and his own children to instead identify as an [Insert Dead Guy] Republican is desperate, stupid, and psychotic. But then again, so are contemporary conservatives.

    By the 1980s even Goldwater thought the GQP was going off the deep end, and it’s gotten worse since then. That’s just how extreme the modern right is.

    4
  39. Gavin says:

    This excellent Boston Review article is the accurate history of MLK day that should be more widely known.

    When conservatives talk about MLK, they tend to ignore the fact that his faith was inescapably tied to his pursuit of economic justice.. he realized that the poor white was exploited just as much as the black. He wasn’t “just” about race even though many attempt to pigeonhole MLK into that box.

    “I had also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.”
    “It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

    1
  40. Matt Bernius says:

    @Gavin:
    Thanks for suggesting the essay. I look forward to reading it when I have a moment.