Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is revered publicly, both as a hero and as an honored part of American history.
Government officials show their support for the late reverend by honoring the holiday in his name, attending service at his church and giving speeches declaring their support for the actions he took and the strides he made towards reducing inequality in the United States. Just last year, the city of Atlanta erected a statue in his honor at the state capitol at the order of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.
King, in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” made several points about the state of inequality during his time and the injustices that he faced while trying to correct those wrongs. King said that, “we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”
In his weekly address on Jan. 15, President Donald Trump said that “Dr. King’s dream is
“It is the American dream. It is the promise stitched into the fabric of our nation, etched into the hearts of our people and written into the soul of humankind.”
He also claimed to be “the least racist person you have ever interviewed” while taking questions from reporters about his remarks during the bipartisan immigration reform meeting.
Despite these pleasant words, President Trump has shown that the words and ideals of King hold no sway over his actions. He has attacked NFL athletes repeatedly over the course of the past year for protesting during the national anthem, accusing them of disrespecting the nation and creating tension in our country. When LiAngalo Ball was released from custody in China, he accused LaVar of not being grateful enough that his son was not in prison and took personal credit for having him released.
Vice President Mike Pence laid a wreath at the MLK Jr. Memorial in honor of the holiday, accompanied by his wife. On Twitter, the vice president said that Dr. King “was a great American leader who inspired a movement & transformed a Nation. He took the word of our Founders to heart to forge a more perfect union based on the notion all men are created equal & in the image of God.”
In Oct. 2017, the vice president walked out of an NFL game between the Colts and the 49ers after some players knelt during the national anthem. After the event, he said on Twitter that he “left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” He later said that he “[doesn’t] think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem,” also on Twitter.
Perhaps more concerning than the attitude of our elected leaders is the attitude of everyday people towards the late King. He is a celebrated figure of American history seemingly across political and racial boundaries. His actions are taught in schools with less controversy than evolutionary theory. In 1999, Gallup found that Dr. King was one of the most admired persons of the 20th century, behind only Mother Theresa.
Despite the uncontroversial public opinion of King, many Americans express disdain towards the very causes he would have championed. They disapprove of NFL protests. They speak out against black activists, accusing them of promoting violence. They start competing movements in an effort to distract from the issues the original movements highlight.
Even those who do not take an active role in opposing activism decry it, saying that there must be better ways to draw attention to those issues in a less divisive way.
King said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that the greatest obstacle in the fight for equality was not the overt racist, the Ku Klux Clan member or the White Citizen’s Councilor.
The greatest obstacle to freedom was the white moderate — the one who, seeing the tension highlighted by the demonstrators, takes the position that they approve of the ideals of the demonstration but not the method. These people have not ceased to exist since that time. The only thing that has changed is that they now claim to believe in
People revere King because they have reduced his message to the barebones. He is no longer the activist who was assassinated for his radical opinions, the man whose faith drove him to lead a march on the capital of this country or the man who was imprisoned for daring to demand the basic values of equality we claim to value so
He is simply the man who had a dream.