Bahr: MLK would not be proud


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.

Connor Bahr

Black History Month has come to a close. Many historically-significant people of color were praised throughout this month, but none more than Martin Luther King Jr., the champion of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. MLK deserves all the praise he gets, as he was a great man and a great leader who helped numerous people and inspired many more.

The problem I address here is not whether MLK deserves praise, but if he would praise us, as a society, were he alive today. 

I’ll be using excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech as a basis for MLK’s values, as this is one of his most famous and endearing speeches.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

In this excerpt, MLK talks about how he believes that continued civil rights protest should be non-violent. MLK was interested in the teachings and ideologies of Gandhi, whom he began to study at Crozer Theological Seminary. Gandhi and King’s own Christian morals combined to make an ideology that was hinged on non-violent but direct action.

The largest and still one of the most memorable acts of black protest since MLK’s time would be the events of Ferguson, Missouri. After a court ruled a white police officer was not going to be charged with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, the streets became a warzone. It started with protesters attacking the police station by throwing rocks at the station and parked squad cars. Police then responded with tear gas; then moved on to rubber bullets as the protest got more violent. By the time the fighting was over, a dozen or more buildings in Ferguson were burned to the ground as well as several cars.

Two years after Ferguson, Micah Johnson shot at police officers during a rally, killing five of them and injuring 12. According to negotiators who attempted to get Johnson to turn himself in, he was angry at recent police brutality among the black community, and wanted to get revenge by “kill[ing] white people, especially white officers.”

These are only two of the many violent protests that have happened in the last decade. Many of these protests have been led by groups who stand for racial equality. So, I think if Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive today, he would be appalled by some of the forms that people of color have expressed themselves.

Let us not forget that when MLK was fighting for rights, which blacks had very few of, segregation was at its height and still he responded with non-violent protests. Not only was he valiant in his efforts of non-violent protest, but he was successful. Segregation was banned under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 largely due to the work of MLK and the inspiration of Rosa Parks. So before you use MLK as an inspiration, think: Would he be proud to be your inspiration?