If we’ve learned anything from the most iconic Civil Rights Movement champion, it’s that as Americans (and Canadians) who celebrate this holiday, we can’t afford to stop educating ourselves. The champion, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a victim of revisionist history – explained by Urban Dictionary as, “When people, with the benefit of years (or generations) of hindsight and typically with ulterior motive, try to rewrite history as it originally occurred.”
Revisionist history paints a narrative of Dr. King suggesting that he was a passive pastor who affected change “the right way.” His 1963 letter from jail, savvy media use, and eventual assassination prove that there is no “right way”.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Dr. King wrote this passionate letter in response to a group of clergymen who called his movement’s protests “unwise and untimely”. They blamed the Civil Rights activists’ nonviolent actions for the violence that ensued when segregationists attacked the protesters.
DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE?
These learned religious men tried to hold peaceful victims accountable for being attacked. In the clergymen’s field of study, that’s analogous to charging Jesus with responsibility for His own death. It’s like stating that His sermons and miracles encouraged the crucifixion.
As for the letter, one of Dr. King’s most infamous quotes comes directly from it, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This quote sheds light on how Dr. King would use a well-known social movement tactic known as the injustice frame. The goal is to reveal to the public how egregious the mistreatment of an oppressed people is. When done properly, injustice frames change public opinion, and in turn change laws.
King’s Media Savvy
Dr. King did just that on March 9, 1965, just eight days after Bloody Sunday. By leading a march on the same bridge that saw 600 marchers (including John Lewis, smh) attacked by state troopers and mobs, media had no choice but to give the protest heavy coverage. Not even a week later, President Lyndon Johnson began passing legislation outlawing voter suppression for black Southerners.
In an episode of The Boondocks, an alternate history is depicted where Dr. King arises from a forty-year coma and wakes up in the modern day. He eventually moves to Canada and dies of old age.
Revisionist history tends to act as if Dr. King really did die of old age. Let’s remember that HE WAS MURDERED, and was one of the most hated men in American history during his lifetime. Change doesn’t come without sacrifice, and for countless blacks in American history, it’s required immense resources, employing impeccable communication strategies, and of course, their lives.
Also, don’t you dare let anybody tell the story of America without Black History: