What Would King Do?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Black Lives Matter movement has exponentially increased America’s protest activity within the last two to three years. The movement, if it needed to be summed up in one sentence, is centered on the lack of accountability regarding state-sponsored police violence inflicted on black citizens. These protests have done an amazing job of bringing awareness to a broken system, but have also given rise to contingent of detractors: a “movement” where “all lives matter” — a group of individuals retorting that “black lives aren’t the only lives that matter.”

A frequent (unbeknownst to him) collaborator on behalf of this delegation is one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Members of this party have consistently inserted the good doctor’s name in criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. Their preferred method is utilizing his legacy to either discuss his penchant for nonviolence or proclaim that “Dr. King wouldn’t have wanted this.” Dr. King has, inexplicably, become both the “king” and the docile face of civil rights activism. Organizers and protesters who’ve taken to the street have, time and again, been met with finger wagging and the question of “what would M.L.K. do?”

Those using King Jr.’s words as a shield against criticism of police violence are unknowingly showing their own ignorance regarding his legacy. Dr. King believed in nonviolent protests, but even his protests were accused of being violent as well. Washington Post editor Simone Sebastian wrote about this:

Alarmed by what they saw, eight liberal, white clergymen wrote a public statement in 1963, calling King’s movement foolish and counterproductive. They sympathized with his cause but said his actions were too aggressive, too disruptive and drove people to violent uprising. The clergymen urged black Americans to reject King’s leadership and adopt peaceful means to achieve racial equality. King’s “nonviolent” movement, they said, was anything but.

Those propagating King’s nonviolent idealism and the “everybody should hold hands together” narrative might be surprised to learn that King questioned his own methods and reasoning for integration. He made those feelings plain in a conversation with Harry Belafonte, shortly before he was assassinated:

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”

That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle, and I asked him what he meant. “I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had,” he answered. “And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”

“I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

Opponents of the current movement—those who believe Martin Luther King, Jr. would look down on it—would benefit from a crash course in Black history. There isn’t a doubt he’s one of the most famous civil rights activists of all time, but his method wasn’t the only way to get things done. Dr. King was aware that his movement, at the time, was considered “violent and disruptive” too.

In honor of his birthday today, I hope more people are involved in showing his true legacy, and not the ones that just fit their narrative.

By Garfield Hylton

Garfield Hylton, J.D., is a dark-humored, self-deprecating misanthropist whose only hope of redemption is turning blank Google Word documents into piles of well-executed thoughts. He likes to add the suffix "J.D." on everything he writes because he understands that everything sounds better when coming from a doctor. You can listen to his podcast here: @NWAPcast.