The way we view Martin Luther King, Jr. has slowly, imperceptibly shifted. As one of the leaders who inexorably redefined America, his legacy should remain authentic, just as he was. Yet, like most things, American history has whitewashed him: a sanitized, vanilla version of his former, fiery persona that offended and incited hatred in many white Americans.
Dr. King’s message, particularly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, is promoted as one of nonviolence, freedom, and justice. This is not inherently erroneous, but it glosses over (or chooses to omit) his very specific fight to end segregation, to stem racial inequality, and to close the economic gap between blacks and whites. Dr. King’s activism, first and foremost, was in relation to African Americans.
Dr. King was radical—no matter how much the current narrative seeks to quell that perception. He was jailed; he held a 66 percent disapproval rating in 1966; he was disruptive and upsetting. He was nowhere near the immaculate hero history molded him into.
It’s important to acknowledge the realities of the ways King engendered change because it validates current civil rights movements such as Black Lives Matter. Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, activists seek to #ReclaimMLK—to recover the sanitized narrative disseminated by the white populous and voice his true contributions to civil rights in this country.
Peaceful rallies and protests have erupted throughout the U.S., in cities such as Oakland, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C.
A full 96 hours of protests were organized via Facebook in Oakland and San Francisco; activists stood outside San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr’s house from 4 a.m. to dawn, using microphones to broadcast disillusionment with his leadership and corruption. Early Monday morning, protestors also encroached San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s residence.
On Saturday night, activists at the Oakland Airport held a Welcome to Oakland banner for incoming travelers while chanting names of individuals killed by local police in a “Say Their Name” rally.
In Chicago, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) shut down the Fraternal Order of the Police Bank, “[demanding] that the city divest from police and reinvest in Black futures.” Similarly in New Orleans and Washington D.C., BYP100 NOLA and D.C. led #ReclaimMLK rallies, insisting on investment in education rather than policing and prisons.
King also fought extensively for the poor, supporting striking workers and unions—on the day of his death, he had planned a Poor People’s Campaign “to demand decent jobs and income.” Airport workers used this ideology to hold strikes in at least nine U.S. airports over the weekend, calling for better working conditions, wage increases, and an end to workplace discrimination.
"These men and women are calling for real change at all these airports in the hopeful and visionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Jaime Contreras, head of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union for the Washington area, told The Washington Post.
Twitter has also demonstrated investment in #ReclaimingMLK, using its 140 characters to concisely define what Martin Luther King Jr.’s real message was:
The establishment acts as if MLK gave the I have a dream speech and walked off into the sunset. #ReclaimMLK— Problematic Genius (@SankofaBrown) January 18, 2016
Don't say "MLK died for this," either. He didn't choose to die. #ReclaimMLK— raina thorpe (@hereweGLOagain) January 18, 2016
People like when MLK said "content of character" but forgot when he said "One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free" #ReclaimMLK— Bougie Black Girl (@BougieBlackGurl) January 18, 2016
As one Twitter user put it, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “isn't a ‘happy holiday.’ It's a myth-busting holiday. It's a day to #ReclaimMLK from the forces of colorblindness & dreamy indifference.”
Racial inequality and systemic injustice remain rampant. Today, African Americans and their allies continue to fight King’s battle.
Banner Image Credit: Twitter, @APTPaction