In celebration of Dr. King: the rabble rouser, the rebel
This article was originally published in Black Girl Fly Magazine in January of 2015. Here you will find it republished with minor edits.
January 15th, 2017 would have marked Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 88th birthday. Assassinated at 39 years old, Dr. King was able to leave behind an amazing legacy and inspired individuals around the world. Had he survived the attempt or had it not occurred at all, Dr. King would have undeniably made a number of additional societal changes predicated on the equality of all human beings based on their intrinsic right to dignity. His short-lived life illustrates the bittersweet impact of martyrdom. Leaving behind more than just a handful of quotes, Dr. King left an indelible mark on generations that will never know the sting of a fire hose.
Accused of being more passive than revolutionary, there are many who were and are opposed to his strategy of acquiring civil rights. His method of non-violence put many Black lives in danger and, to many, undermined the right of Black people to defend themselves. Despite the naysayers, Dr. King had a larger objective in mind though his greatness often begins and ends with his association with the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and he is oft associated solely with his “I Have A Dream” speech. When you read and listen to his speeches over the entire course of his activism however, one realizes just how rebellious and rabble rousing he was—just how conscious and impassive he was, just how radical his approach was. His strategy of acquiring civil rights was a tactical one, not a submissive one and over the course of decades his legacy has been sanitized to make him seem more peace-loving than he actually was.
In celebration for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am sharing a number of radical quotes that don’t always make it into our textbooks—or at the very least don’t get emphasized.
Five Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that are seldom shared by your teachers or in your classroom:
- “Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word ‘black’. It’s always something degrading, low and sinister. Look at the word ‘white’. It’s always something pure, high, clean. Well, I wanna get the language right tonight. I wanna get the language so right that everybody here will cry out, ‘Yes, I’m Black! I’m proud of it! I’m Black and beautiful”
- “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” -Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963
- “The step backwards has a new name today; it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there. It was caused neither by the cry of Black power nor by the unfortunate wave of riots in our cities. The white backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that has characterized America ever since the Black man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.” –Three Evils of Society, 1967
- “We will not be harassed, we will not, we will not make a butchery of our conscience, we will not be intimidated and we will be heard.” –Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963
- “I had preached to them about my dream. I had lectured to them about the not too distant day when they would have freedom, all here, now. I had urged them to have faith in America and in white society. Their hopes had soared. They were now booing me because they felt that we were unable to deliver on our promises. They were booing because we had urged them to have faith in people who had too often proved to be unfaithful.” –Three Evils of Society, 1967
Through his words Dr. King showed a deep understanding of the sociopolitical and economic reasons for and effects of racism. And despite his uneasy reality, he proved worthy of his manhood. Dr. King represents humility, courage, determination and intellect. He personifies strength and passion and love. Dr. King is a man worth admiring and I am grateful to have the humility to do so. Carry the message of these quotes with you for the remainder of this year and be encouraged by the fact that Dr. King was once and continues to be our leader. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.