Racial Justice: Are we making any progress?

MLK Facebook

We celebrate  Martin Luther King’s birthday on Monday and that means a day off.

It’s a recent habit to use a part of the weekend to read or re-read something he wrote and give it some thought. Seems the least thing to do.

Last year it was Have Courage: The Letter from Birmingham Jail.

This year it’s the speech he gave at City Temple, London, in 1964 as he was en route to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

Democracy Now has the whole story of how the speech was found. You can also  listen and read the transcript.

The speech is a nutshell history of American history, the impact of slavery and the struggle for civil rights.Untitled design (65)

These days MLK’s legacy is often so sanitized. He said he had a dream and that’s about it.

The decades long struggle and forceful non-violent activism for jobs and freedom, economic justice, divestment as a weapon, anti-militarism and opposition to the Vietnam War are reduced to a few resounding phrases and conveniently sidelined. Too difficult. Too controversial. Too divisive. Doesn’t bring everyone together. Not soothing.

The legacy is so distorted it would be possible sometimes to think he spouted a series of contemporary Republican Party talking points. King’s name, for example, has been invoked by those seeking to privatize public schools, interpret the second amendment as unrestricted access to all guns and for limiting women’s access to reproductive health care.

In that world of distortion it’s important to go back to the record and broaden it beyond the sound bite of one (remarkable) speech.

The  recurring theme in King’s London speech: We have made progress but we have a long way to go. It was true in 1964 and it’s still true in 2016.

Listen or read the speech for yourself. What do you think?



  1. “…. I still believe that mankind will rise up to the occasion. In spite of the darkness of the hour, in spite of the difficulties of the moment, in spite of these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, I still have faith in the future, and I still believe that we can build this society of brotherhood and this society of peace.” MLK

  2. It’s easy to get disheartened by the work still to do. But there has been progress. So there is always a reason for optimism. Hope you are able to join us for the screening of “I am not Racist, Am I?” on Thursday. And Karen – thank-you – as always for your comments.

  3. Graham:

    Very good article in The Atlantic magazine. I hope all teachers read it.

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