It has become important to me that I not allow myself to package Dr. King’s legacy in a handful of quotes. It’s too easy to make him palatable and dishonor the struggle.
In the biblical tradition, Yahweh wanted his people to remember the full story of their history, especially the trauma they endured and perpetrated. Remembering keeps the trauma alive in their collective self in a healthy way so that resilience becomes possible. It also serves as a catalyst to provoke a renewed self-understanding that includes self-awareness and a commitment to build a more just society that promotes a positive social identity based upon the triumph over past failures. The aim was building a society where human flourishing is necessary, not just possible, for all its members.
Remembering the whole of history matters because it’s how we make meaning of the present. We have to keep it in context if we want to avoid self-deception.
With that, the same Dr. King that said, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
also said this:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans. White America would have liked to believe that in the past ten years a mechanism had somehow been created that needed only orderly and smooth tending for the painless accomplishment of change. . . .These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”“Where Do We Go From Here,” 1968 pp. 10, 11.
We need Dr. King in context.