Martin Luther King Day is something like Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day— one in which people give recognition to a value best displayed 365 (or in this case, 366) days a year. As a Black American, it’s difficult to stomach federal recognition of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as integral to the formation of modern America, while oftentimes refusing modern-day applications of his ideology.
This MLK Day, I wanted to provide a description of articles I’m reading to get me in the spirit of the holiday. I start with words from the man himself: for those looking to get a more well rounded idea of MLK’s speeches, “Reclaiming King: 5 Speeches That Aren’t ‘I Have a Dream’” is perfect. The more popular Letter from Birmingham Jail is Dr. King’s manifesto of sorts. In it, he details his reasons for being in Birmingham, and how they fit into his larger vision for activism. Just as importantly, he discusses his relationship with Christianity and how religion (specifically the Black Church) plays into both his very breed of social engagement, and his vision for America. It’s a breeding ground for insightful quotes, the kind that are oftentimes pulled for corporate remembrance of Dr. King on this very day. This article by a good friend, provides a modern take on the personal relationship between Christianity and civil rights.
“We must also say to those who question the “decency” and “morality” of our children that the Christian mandate to love and defend the oppressed and vulnerable has nothing to do with how they dress, what they say, and who they appear to be; it only has to do with whether or not we see them as our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughter,” writes Zehyoue.
This mandate to defend the oppressed is also tied to whether or not we have the imagination to see “them” as ourselves, as Clint Smith writes in his “The Stories Tamir Rice Makes Us Remember.” Smith looks back on his time as an African-American boy scout, feeling differently about his rifle and shotgun shooting in the aftermath of Tamir Rice’s death. Its a short but poignant personal anecdote that is worth a read. For writer Gene Demby, seeing himself in his journalistic subjects began to wear on him.
“We ask journalists to keep some critical, dispassionate distance from their stories. But what happens when the stories they’re covering are not abstractions, not just things that happen to other people? What happens when echoes of those stories keep sounding off in their own lives?”
Standing over drafts of articles written about communities not so different from their own makes the work all the more tiresome, writes Demby in his “How Black Reporters Report on Black Death.” In finding a way to treat death and brutality with respect, strategic journalism becomes strategic activism.
More than ever, journalists and activists have at times become inextricably linked. Twenty-first century activists are social media mavens, and journalists have had to keep up with them in order to keep up with the story. “Our Demand is Simple: Stop Killing Us,” provides one of the best overviews of the role social media played in the United States’ “First 21st-century civil rights movement.” Those looking for a deeper conversation should look at In Conversation: Deray McKesson. It weaves in and out of substantive conversation, but you leave with a better idea of the Black Lives Matter activist’s personality, inspiration, and activist philosophies. In it, he briefly talks politics, including his aim to have a civil rights dialogue with presidential candidates (also check out Essence Magazine’s cover story on Netta Elzie, which is on the shelves as we speak).
Even in situations where candidates do not fully agree, the dialogue is important to have, because it provides visibility to civil rights issues. It’s intuitive: important people talking about issues makes them increasingly important in the eyes of their constituency. Sometimes, mere presence provides necessary visibility– even without dialogue. Charles M. Blow brings up one of the most important corollaries of visibility in his “The Other Obama Legacy:”
“These things register in a way that should never be underestimated. As a child, I couldn’t name many politicians, but I knew that P.B.S. Pinchback had been the first and only black governor of Louisiana, my home state; that Thurgood Marshall was a sitting Supreme Court Justice; and that Ed Bradley was one of the most respected journalists on television.”
Similarly, I never knew a male Secretary of State in my youth— the mere presence of those women proved to me that it was unquestionable for a woman to be disqualified from power simply by virtue of her gender. President Obama has been to young black men what Condi Rice was to me: regardless of politic, an indicator that it is possible for us to hold these positions. President Obama behind a podium, just like Dr. King at Lincoln Memorial, is important because representation and visibility inform the dreams of the children who see them. President Hoover certainly knew this fact, which only partly explains the aggressive FBI campaign against King.
For this reason among many, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is oftentimes regarded as the Black Founding Father (racial qualifier unnecessary, but included). Collectively his actions and writings are no less vital to the shaping of the contemporary Americana than the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. The latter set the framework for the United States, while the former continues to help perfect it, etching stone away from what promises to be a bountiful gem. Because while they told us “all men are created equal,” it wasn’t until Dr. King came along that we truly began to understand how grandiose a charge that truly was.
I hope this was helpful or insightful for someone out there. There are so many things I wanted to write about in this post, but had to overlook because of space. I recommend “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” for a different look at the ramifications of mass incarceration; “The Case for Reparations,” which discusses what slavery reparations would have looked like; and “Sterilized against their will in a Los Angeles hospital: Latinas tell the story in a new film,” for a look at Latin@ activism (in fact, just peruse the entire Anna Julia Cooper Center‘s website); “How a Racist System has Poisoned the Water in Flint, Michigan” for the intersection of class and race; and of course my previous review of March (Book One). Feel free to drop any other articles in the comments!