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.
The speech is a nutshell history of American history, the impact of slavery and the struggle for civil rights.
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?