EDITORIAL: Fulfilling MLK Jr.’s legacy


Jose Luis Magana | Associated Press

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during the 9th Annual Wreath Laying and Day of Reflection and Reconciliation, in Washington, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.

Too often we hear about and read about politicians and other public figures virtue signaling and appropriating the words of Martin Luther King Jr. while only moderately or incompletely attempting to understand and to carry out the American hero’s core visions and values. For the sake of righteousness, for the sake of justice as King himself spoke of justice, we must do better.

To carry out the moral and virtuous way of living King spoke about throughout his life, and to pursue a more just, more loving and caring world, first we must understand his nuanced ideas about such morals and virtues.

During a March 1965 sermon in Selma, Alabama, one day following the Bloody Sunday civil rights protest during which protestors were brutally beaten and attacked by police using billy clubs and tear gas, King told listeners, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

Unlike many of those who utter his words today and do not commit themselves to actually living by them, King meant exactly what he said. Throughout his life, King was willing to be killed standing up for justice and moral righteousness in every instance, whether marching for civil rights or the Poor Peoples Campaign or peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. He never allowed himself to cower in fear, to bend at the knee, to sit by idly while others were suffering unjustly.

No matter the consequences, King stood for what he believed to be right, even when he was standing mostly or entirely alone, even when those standing on the other side of the fence were the most dangerous and powerful men in the world, and even when he knew those dangerous and powerful men were willing to throw him behind bars or have him killed for telling the truth and inspiring others. This is the true meaning of bravery.

Remarkably, King displayed this exact sort of bravery throughout his entire lifetime fighting for social and economic justice for those less fortunate than himself, even when he may have been forgiven for thinking his fight—the fight for a more just, more equitable living for all people—was nothing more than a lost cause.

In fact, writing from behind bars after being punished for protesting racism in Alabama, King’s appetite for fighting for radical change toward a more righteous world no matter the personal costs seemed only to be strengthened and reinforced rather than weakened or shattered.

In his April 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King wrote about the immense dangers of silencing and moderating, rather than acting upon and fighting for, one’s own moral principles, especially during times of radical injustice or moral conflict.

In the letter, King wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

Abundantly clear here and in countless other words written and spoken by the man himself is King’s belief that justice and righteousness are always worthy causes; The good fight is one worth fighting no matter how small, inconsequential, dangerous or disruptive one may consider it, no matter how tough, impossible or unconventional a prospective victory may seem.

Also clear is that, at least to King, choosing to stand sheepishly in the middle of two diametrically opposed moral stances, for instance racism versus civil rights or war versus peace, is just as dangerous and harmful—if not more so—to the ultimate fight for freedom and righteousness as choosing to stand assuredly on the side of evil and injustice.

To reiterate that when he wrote about immorality and injustice and the importance of a unified and perpetual fight for righteousness, we quote once more from King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he wrote so profoundly, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

If one is to truly believe in King’s legacy, one must also dream as King himself dreamt; One must believe that no fight for what is right is too small to be worth fighting, no injustice too far gone or too institutionalized to be made just again by those who dare to dream…