Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a day we dedicate to celebrate and honor all the ways in which Dr. King not only advocated for the Black community but challenged and began dismantling oppressive systems. And while so many are so quick to support Dr. King’s work and stand in solidarity; these are the same people who fail to recognize we have yet to move forward, or even welcome Dr. King’s work.
Our society has done well at painting the perfect picture: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a well-loved and accepted hero who completely changed the course of our country. Sure, this is a lovely sentiment, but it’s fairytale. The reality is, that at the time of his death, Dr. King had nearly a 75% disapproval rating across the United States (University of Georgia, 2022). And as we head into 2022, I would go as far as to say, his disapproval rating has not decreased by much.
So, while this picturesque story we are told of Dr. King seems great, let’s consider the facts. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered most for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, from the desegregation of public spaces to political reform. Although he understood violence and anger in response to racism and oppression, he championed for a peaceful approach to protesting. He was mindful of keeping a kind demeanor in hopes of being more palatable to white Americans. And despite becoming infamous for his peaceful protests, he was arrested thirty times for his civil rights activities (Tolerance, 2015).
Not only was Dr. King arrested but faced countless threats and attacks due to his work in advocacy. It even escalated to the point of a bombing at his home in Montgomery (Standford University, 2018). He was killed for speaking up against injustice. This is not a story of a man who was welcomed, let alone celebrated.
Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on our current circumstances. There is a war on voting rights, prisons have maintained systems of slavery, police brutality is just as prevalent, white parents and politicians refuse to incorporate, or even accept the urgency of, Critical Race Theory, there is still inequity… we have yet to move forward. I feel like we are frozen. Without accountability and ongoing effort, nothing will change. It just remains hidden.
So, yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but if we really want to honor his efforts and legacy, we must be engaging in this work every day. We have yet to welcome his philosophies into our society and people continue to lose their lives because of this. It’s time we step up and show up. Not just for one day, but for every day.
Standford University. (2018, April 5). King’s home bombed. The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/kings-home-bombed
Tolerance. (2015, June 11). Martin Luther King, jr: Fighting for equal rights in America. Tolerance. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://tolerance.tavaana.org/en/content/martin-luther-king-jr-fighting-equal-rights-america
University of Georgia. (2022). Essay: Why Martin Luther King had a 75 percent disapproval rating in the year of his death. History Department. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://history.uga.edu/news/stories/2018/essay-why-martin-luther-king-had-75-percent-disapproval-rating-year-his-death