Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and author of “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” reveals what a lot of people get wrong about Martin Luther King Jr. Towards the end of King’s life, he became more radical and eager to challenge the notion that America was a racially blind country. Following is a transcript of the video.
When you think about it, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has been severely whitewashed. What I mean by that is that we have completely denied the legitimate radical elements of Martin Luther King Jr.’s image, identity, and ideas. We have frozen him in 1963, where he delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in American history, the “I Have a Dream” speech that captured the moral aspiration of King but many people have frozen him there, as if he believed that was an achievement, not an aspiration. As if we had already in America come to a point where we were no longer judging people by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Now many conservative white brothers and sisters and many radical right-wingers of all races have attempted to distort Martin Luther King Jr’s memory, to whitewash him of the social context of his racial ideas. Furthermore, Martin Luther King Jr. was far more radical at the end of his life. Martin Luther King Jr. had more than one speech. Like a great singer, he had more than one album, one great hit. And so “I Have a Dream is a great hit, is a great song, is a great if you will, part of his legacy.
But he delivered other speeches.
He said I saw my dream turn into a nightmare in another speech. He talked about the violence in American society and the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of black people. He talked about riots as the language of the unheard. He spoke to America the day before he was murdered and said, “America, all we ask is that you be true to what you said on paper.” He also began to say that most Americans were unconscious racists. He began to challenge the notion that America was a racially blind, racially neutral country and he began to argue that many Americans would not come to grips with their own racist beliefs, ideas, and practices.
That’s a much more radical Martin Luther King Jr. than we’re used to talking about and listening to, and only when we recover that King, will we recover the full dimension of his radical, if you will, position in America letters and certainly in American leadership culture.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.