Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical leader in the history of racial justice, but isn't always depicted as such. There is much irony in the way our country remembers Dr. King (a national day of remembrance, a memorial on the National Mall) because he fought some of the most fundamental structures within this nation - systemic racism and economic inequality. His words are often presented in a way that makes them more palatable to those with white privilege and class privilege, but it is vital to acknowledge that his critiques of racist, capitalist systems in America were bold and disruptive and that the systems he rallied against remain in many ways unchanged.
"We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed." -Dr. King, May 1967 Report
Dr. King openly criticized state-sponsored racism and police brutality - battles that have not been resolved and continue to be fought today, namely by #BlackLivesMatter. He suffered violence and oppression, and his life was nothing if not a subversive response to the injustice he experienced.
It is a disservice to Dr. King to depict his life's work as moderate or yielding. Let us remember him today as the revolutionary, complex movement leader that he was. Let us also remember the community of activists that worked alongside him: Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Asa Phillip Randolph, and Amelia Boynton Robinson, among others.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” -Dr. King, April 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail
At GSA Network, we honor Dr. King's legacy in the black liberation movement and the path that he paved. There is still so much work to be done. We demand freedom.