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Notable people, including Jada Pinkett Smith, Deepak Chopra, Carmen de Lavallade, Michael Strahan, Bernice King, and Sunny Hostin, talk about the impact Martin Luther King, Jr. had on their lives and what they see from their own "mountaintops."
The Misunderstood Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
His birthday is a national holiday in the U.S. His leadership in the struggle for civil rights and his nonviolent stance have made him an international icon of social justice. But that wasn't always the case. More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, but historians tell us that it wasn't King's work while he was alive nor even his tragic death that changed his reputation in the minds of most Americans.
Jeanne Theoharis teaches political science at Brooklyn College and is the author, most recently, of "A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History." Her book is an attempt to get beyond the myths that have arisen about the civil rights movement and look at how it was really seen then and what it means for us now.
Many Northerners, for example, believe that King was always a beloved figure and that his crusade against the Jim Crow South was widely celebrated by them. But Theoharis points to a New York Times poll from 1964 — the same year the Civil Rights Act was passed — that showed a majority of white New Yorkers thought the civil rights movement had gone too far. And a national poll in 1966, just two years before King's death, found that only 28 percent of white Americans had a favorable opinion of MLK. (A separate 1966 poll found that 78 percent of blacks rated King's job performance in the "fight for Negro rights" as "excellent.")
"The general public does not support the civil rights movement when it's happening," says Theoharis. "The same criticisms made against Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement today were trotted out against Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks 60 years ago. They were disruptive, they were called extremists, they were accused of moving too fast, going too far. All these things we see today have parallels in the civil rights movement."
Even King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., viewed today as the high watermark of the movement and King's short yet impactful career, was delivered under a cloud of fear and tension.
"We think of the March on Washington as the most American event ever," says Theoharis. "At the time it wasn't seen like that. Local and federal law enforcement prepared for it like it was an invasion."
Many Americans also believe that King's work ended with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that the acts themselves somehow "cured" the nation of institutional racism.
But Clayborne Carson, history professor at Stanford University and founding director of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, points out that King didn't retire after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
"He was in Chicago the next year dealing with problems more national in scope that are still with us today. He was dealing with the question of war, and now we're living in an era of perpetual war. He was dealing with issue of poverty on the day he died," says Carson. "If Martin Luther King were alive today, he would say that [the landmark legislation] was a tremendous victory, but it has made us very complacent about his goal of global human rights and social justice. That was his big picture."
The Turnaround on King's Legacy
So, if King was distrusted and maligned by mainstream America during his life, was it his martyrdom at age 39 that changed public opinion and transformed him into an almost saintly American hero? Not immediately, says Theoharis, explaining that it took 15 years of lobbying by civil rights leaders and sympathetic legislators to finally convince Congress to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.
President Ronald Reagan, who was against the holiday during his first term in office — he agreed with former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover that King was a communist — changed his tune when running for re-election and needed to close a "sensitivity gap" with minorities and women.
Signing the bill in 1983 that made King's birthday a national holiday, Reagan skillfully laid out the elements that would become the national fable:
Theoharis says that Reagan's genius was to frame King's story as another example of American exceptionalism.
"We had an injustice and we corrected it. It's all about the power of individuals and the power of American democracy," says Theoharis. "These will be key elements in terms of how the civil rights movement comes to be memorialized in our national culture."
By 1987, four years after the creation of MLK Day and nearly 20 years after King's murder on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, a full 76 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of King and those numbers only continued to grow, says Theoharis. (By 1999, King came in second on a Gallop survey of 20th-century individuals Americans admired most, behind Mother Teresa.)
Political scientist Sheldon Appleton wrote in 1995 that younger, college-educated white Americans tended to support King and both of these demographics were larger in 1987 than in 1966. He also noted that the widespread lack of knowledge about King and the civil rights movement in general (see sidebar) might have also colored earlier perceptions. "Perhaps recent media treatment of King has helped to induce selective memory by some middle aged and older Americans," Appleton wrote.
Of course, Americans have every reason to venerate Martin Luther King and to celebrate his accomplishments. He didn't do it alone, and he had his flaws like any other man, but as Carson explains, he also had an undeniable gift for challenging Americans, then and now, to make good on the promise of our founding principles.
"He had that ability to link the goals of the civil rights struggle to ideals that most Americans believe that they have," says Carson. "That's what he was doing in [the 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington]. We as a nation justified our independence with a human rights statement called the Declaration of Independence. The question is: Can we live up to that?"
Learn more about the civil rights movement in "The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle" by Clayborne Carson (editor). HowStuffWorks picks related titles based on books we think you'll like. Should you choose to buy one, we'll receive a portion of the sale.
In 1993, on the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington, 57 percent of white Americans and 28 percent of African-Americans said they knew or remembered little or nothing about the event, according to a Gallup poll.
Thursday, January 14
5:30 pm EST
Welcome and Opening Reflections
Join stewards and early supporters of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy of Social and Environmental Justice as they welcome the community to this year’s virtual festival. These visionaries will offer a brief history of the event and their reflections on its impact.
This welcome marks 25 years of gathering together to honor Dr. King, celebrate his legacy, and imagine new futures with local environmental and social justice leaders. The program will also feature a spoken word performance presented by The Key Bookstore.
Register on Zoom or watch the broadcast live on our Facebook Page and YouTube Channel
*Live Captioning (English) Available
DOE Celebrates the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 20, 2020, the United States honored the incredible life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His enduring memory inspires us to strive for a more just and equal society.
The Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) hosted a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at the Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington, D.C. on January 22. Trina Bilal, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact, opened the event. The Director of ED, the Honorable James E. Campos, welcomed attendees and emphasized DOE’s commitment to a just and
workplace. Lettie Wormley, Secretary of the Blacks In Government (BIG) - DOE chapter, shared the history of the chapter and encouraged attendees to join.
Secretary of Energy, Dan Brouillette, emphasized the importance of Dr. King’s legacy and explained, “we seek to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy with a call to every American to serve those in need.” In the 1600s, John Winthrop of Massachusetts declared that “we shall be a city upon the hill the eyes of all people are upon us.” Dr. King called
the United States to live up to that promise to embrace a new altruism based on agape - on all-encompassing love for humanity, and service to others.
In his keynote, Dean Nelson, Chairman of the Douglas Leadership Foundation, encouraged attendees to reflect on the progress made and to continue to work toward a more just and equal society. Mr. Nelson highlighted the story of Ship’s Cook 3rd Class Doris Miller who became the first African-American to
the Navy Cross for his exceptional bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor. On January 20, the U.S. Navy announced plans to name an aircraft in honor of him. It will be the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African-American. Mr. Nelson encouraged us all to embrace the call to serve, whether it be through your current job, or in your community.
to a variety of artistic performances. John
Program Policy Analyst with the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence performed a powerful recitation of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Daniel Hill, Budget Analyst with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which
as a poem by African-American poet and civil rights activist, James Weldon Johnson, to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and the song has become a powerful cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people. Deputy Director for the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity Patricia Zarate provided closing remarks.
Thank you to Secretary Brouillette, Director Campos, Mr. Nelson, and Ms. Wormley for sharing your time, experience and wisdom. An additional thank you to and Collette
, on detail to ED, for organizing the event.
&ldquoWhen we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, &lsquoFree at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.&rsquo "
Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. Her scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical scholarship, and the history of antisemitism. She also serves on the academic advisory council of the Center for Jewish Studies in Berlin and on the Board of Trustees of Trinity College.
Her numerous publications include Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (University of Chicago Press), which won a National Jewish Book Award, and “A Different Kind of Theo-Politics: Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Prophets and the Civil Rights Movement,” which appeared in the Journal of Political Theology (Winter 2020). She has also edited several books, including Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays of Abraham Joshua Heschel Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (with Robert P. Ericksen) and Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism (with David Biale and Michael Galchinsky).
Heschel has been a visiting professor at the Universities of Frankfurt and Cape Town as well as Princeton, and she is a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of numerous awards and grants, as well as four honorary doctorates. She is currently writing a book on the history of European Jewish scholarship on Islam. In 2015 she was elected a member of the American Society for the Study of Religion.
Susannah Heschel is the daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel z”l, one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. A prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Rabbi Heschel was called “a truly great prophet” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and marched alongside Dr. King and John Lewis on the third Selma to Montgomery march in December 1965.
Martin Luther King Jr., (center), and Abraham Joshua Heschel, (2nd from right),
during Selma march in 1965. (Courtesy of Susannah Heschel)
Susannah Heschel will discuss “Blacks, Jews, and Black Jews” on March 18, 7:30 p.m., as part of the 2021 series of virtual lectures on the theme of “The Jewish Roots of Social Justice,” presented by the ALEPH Institute, a learning initiative sponsored by the Mandell JCC and UConn Judaic Studies.
Heschel’s lecture will explore three intertwined dimensions of relations between African Americans and Jewish Americans: Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish memory of the Civil Rights Movement in recent decades in light of the rise of white nationalism, and scholarship on racism and what they might contribute to our understanding of antisemitism.
In advance of Martin Luther King Day, which is celebrated this year on Jan. 18, the Ledger spoke with Susannah Heschel from her home in New Hampshire, just hours after Georgia elected the state’s first Black and Jewish U.S. Senators. In noting the history-making significance of the moment, Senator-elect Rafael Warnock, speaking on CNN, and Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking on MSNBC, paid brief tribute to the late Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King.
JEWISH LEDGER: It was nice to see the Black community and the Jewish community, celebrating together this morning, don’t you think?
SUZANNAH HESCHEL: Absolutely fantastic. So who knows? Maybe there’s hope. There’s always hope.
What are your memories of Martin Luther King and of your father’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement? Did your father’s activism influence you?
I remember [Dr. King] quite well. My father met Dr. King in 1963 when they were both in Chicago at a conference, and then they just kind of bonded. They started doing lectures together at various places. And so, I met Dr. King several times and I heard him speak. He was absolutely an extraordinary person, and very very inspiring to me too.
He was a great friend of the Jewish people wasn’t he?
Yes, and Jews supported him very strongly too. There were many Jews who, as
you know, when put their lives on the line – put their lives in danger. And also raised funds for the, for the civil rights movement.
What was it that that inspired your father to become so active in in social causes especially the civil rights movement?
It certainly influenced me. My father, and also Dr. King, gave me the sense that religion and racism were absolutely incompatible. And then I became very interested in that issue when I was working on German Jewish history and saw the antisemitism that was coming also from Christian religious thinkers. That shocked me.
I think, for my father, having experienced antisemitism in Europe, growing up in Poland and studying in Germany during the Nazi period, [the notion that religion and racism were incompatible] was very important. And so, to come to the United States and find Dr. King, making the Hebrew bible, the story Exodus and the prophets, central to the Civil Rights movement was something that meant a great deal to my father.
Why do you think that Jews as a people were so active in supporting the Black community, marching with them, protesting with them. What was it that inspired us to step up and take action?
First of all, I think Dr.King made the Civil Rights movement also an ecumenical movement and brought in people from different faiths. The fact is that when he gave his public lectures, he quoted from the Hebrew bible and the prophets, as well as from the New Testament and Jesus. So he tried to be as broad as possible and as inclusive as possible.
I also think that we were as Jews, after the Holocaust, absolutely shattered. And in many ways, Dr. King restored our souls. He made us proud to be Jews proud of the bible proud of the prophets. He gave us a respect and a central role in one of the great religious movements of history, because the Civil Rights movement was very much a religious movement and it meant that to Jews. It meant that Judaism has something to say to the world to give the world. That was very important.
So, I see Dr. King as giving a great gift to us after the Holocaust in helping us heal our souls.
Can you explain what you mean when you say that religion and racism are incompatible and the prophets having much to teach us in terms of social justice?
Well, first of all, for the prophets, what was most important to them were the people living on the margins of society – widows and orphans, for example – that was most important to the prophets, and they were courageous figures who spoke about the importance of justice to people in positions of power – to kings, priests, but also to the entire society. They were strong voices who brought people to repent, who changed people.
As close as the Black and Jewish communities were in the 60s, it seems that relationship has deteriorated in recent years. For example, for awhile the Black Lives Movement seemed aligned with the BDS movement several Black celebrities have in recent days spewed the hateful rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan, and so on. Is there an explanation for the fissure between the Black and Jewish communities?
I don’t see it that way. In the book by Mark Dolson for Black Power Jewish Politics, he talks about how the Black power movement emerged with black nationalism, at the same time that Jews after the 1967 War became increasingly nationalistic in relation to Israel. So in fact there’s a parallel.
He also demonstrates the many things that Black nationalism gave to the Jewish community. For instance, Black studies was established at universities. And after that came Jewish studies. I actually remember Jewish students saying, ‘Well, if you have Black studies, why can’t we have Jewish studies.’ So Black studies, in many ways, paved the way for Jewish studies, which is my field. I think that Black nationalism also made us feel that nationalism is a good thing, including Zionism.
Now, the problem with nationalism of course is that it is separate. That is, for example, Jews have our nationalism, the French have their nationalism, and so on. So, it tends to be divisive. But I think we reached that point at the same time and supported one another in our separate ways.
In terms of Farrakhan, he’s loathsome. And he has been a source of profound trouble for Black Americans and Black leaders.
It’s very hard to handle a demagogue. But then again, plenty of Jews have supported a different demagogue named Donald Trump, who has said horrible things about about a huge number of people – disabled, Black, Hispanic, etc. We’re living in an era of demagogues. We’re living in an era of racists. Now, how do I explain Jewish support for Trump to my black friends? It seems that people are drawn to demagogues. Farrakhan is just a stupid, loud-mouth person in his 80s. Trump became president of the United States.
Going forward, what can the two communities do to come together again?
We can do programs like the [the ALEPH lecture]. We can watch films like “Shared Legacies” by Sherry Rogers we have lectures we have plenty of books for people to read. And we have efforts to get away from demagoguery. My own synagogue, for example, established a group to study racism – an orthodox synagogue in Boston that meets every month over six weeks to read, to think, to talk. That’s how we do it.
And that’s how we, for example, change our attitudes about women and women’s right to have a profession. When I was growing up I heard people say for instance, “I would never go to a woman doctor because she would never know what she’s doing.” Now that’s changed and that’s great. This too can change.
What do you think Martin Luther King would make of the kind of rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and his followers?
Well, I think he would have been horrified. But I also think he would have been working strongly to try to change hardened hearts and soften them. I think he also always spoke with great dignity and compassion about his opponents. And he would have said, “Look, they’re human beings too. Let’s not denigrate them.” That was part of the whole idea of non-violence not just about not fighting back, but it was about becoming a different kind of person – a person of dignity, sensitivity and understanding.
50 Years Later: A Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Legacy
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what would be his final speech. He was assassinated the next day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His leadership in the Civil Rights Movement captured the attention of a nation, including journalist, Lee A. Daniels. He recalls his childhood in Boston during the Civil Rights Movement and how Dr. King's message transcended from the southern states, inspiring him to be a part of the movement in his own way.
Growing up in Boston during the late 1950s and 60s, I was far from the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement in the south. I was not part of the sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. I wasn’t in Montgomery, Alabama to be beaten on the Freedom Rides in 1961 or jailed in Jackson, Mississippi. I was not in danger of being attacked by police dogs or blasted by firemen’s high-pressure hoses during the marches in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
In fact, I lived a comfortable, happy existence in Boston’s surprisingly small, close-knit black community. But from the moment my brother and I, at our parent’s and grandmother’s subtle, insistent urging, began to read about America’s racial crisis, I considered myself a civil rights activist.
I mean activist, not “follower.” The latter word was too soft, too ambiguous, too lacking in passion for what I envisioned my role to be: I wanted to do things to enable black Americans to gain the “unalienable rights” that actually were theirs by birth. I wanted to challenge racism head-on.
This was an easy concept for black adolescents in the north in those years to formulate. It was painfully obvious that, despite the laws mandating equality of opportunity, segregation and racial discrimination was rampant in the region’s public schools, residential housing patterns, and job opportunities. That certainly described life in Boston, a city whose extraordinary history and high-gloss educational, medical, and cultural institutions significantly obscured its provincialism and sedate but deep-rooted commitment to racial segregation and stratification.
And yet, the Boston of those years also contained a vibrant, integrated civil rights community. Its energy and optimism sprang from both black Boston’s long history of fighting for equality — the local struggle to integrate the Boston schools would lead a decade later to the momentous 1974 federal court school desegregation order — and its direct connection, via individual friendships and church and community-group alliances, to the Movement in the south.
The most dramatic example of that connection was Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. Many black Bostonians knew Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, from their years as graduate students in the city: he at Boston University School of Theology she at the New England Conservatory of Music. That included Reverend Michael E. Haynes, then pastor of Roxbury’s historic Twelfth Baptist Church, who would become one of my most important mentors. The two men had been co-junior pastors at the church in the early 1950s before Dr. King was called to lead the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and just before Rosa Parks’ defiance of Jim Crow laws led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They would remain close friends all the remaining years of Dr. King’s life.
Dr. King’s years in Boston and his friendships with ordinary black Bostonians that I myself knew, symbolized how fluid and intimate the bond was between the Movement’s “leaders” and the masses. That truth was powerfully on display at that very moment as local activists — some of them the parents of my own friends — were intensifying their demands that school officials stop segregating the city’s elementary and middle schools. My brother and I joined a church-based “freedom choir.” We eagerly participated in the one-day student public school boycotts in 1962 and 1963 so we could instead attend “Freedom Schools” in local churches to learn more about the Movement in the South — and in Boston.
Those experiences helped me understand that the Movement grew and was sustained from the ground up, not the top down. In turn, that enabled me to realize Dr. King was best thought of not as its “leader” but as its “convener,” as the primary spokesman for and custodian of its ethos, its soul force and that the wonderful sense of obligation the Movement fostered was a product of their own commitment to the cause.
In one sense, of course, that cause was very specific: gaining equal citizenship rights for black Americans. But in an even larger sense, the Civil Rights Movement stands as an extraordinary expression of civic responsibility. It underscored for the whole world that whoever you are, wherever you are, you can always be an upstander you can always work in small, as well as large ways, to make progress possible. Dr. King’s evocative preaching of that message is a major reason his appeal as an apostle of social justice remains so powerful today.
I’m sure that as a teenaged civil rights “activist” I left a very small imprint on Boston’s civil rights footpaths during those years. I often think of how the North Star was used as the navigational watchword, leading many African Americans out of slavery and into the north, onward to Canada. The activism of my youth served as my very own North Star, folding me into the continuing struggle for justice and equality for African Americans. I’ve always remembered my activism with gratitude for the sense of obligation it birthed in me. I continued to follow my North Star as it led me into a career in journalism. It was my own way to always be true to the principles I developed then: to live according to the movement inside my head.
Use our lesson, "Dr. King's Legacy and Choosing to Participate," to explore Dr. King's last speech before he was assassinated. Challenge students to use his speech and his legacy to consider how they might “choose to participate” in creating of a more just community, nation, or world.
Remembering and Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, the National Indian Gaming Association celebrates and honors the strength and perseverance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, more than any time in recent history – we must heed his words, follow his example, and unite to achieve King’s dream that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
While his work in the years immediately following the “I Have a Dream” speech spurred Congress to enact groundbreaking Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, our Nation has significant work ahead to truly achieve this Dream.
While it seems as if we have taken steps backwards over the last four years, we cannot let that deter from the work over the last 50 years that people of all colors have achieved. We will not go backwards but continue that forward progress that so many leaders like Dr. King have fought so hard for. . From the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to the January 6, 2021 domestic terror attack on the United States Capitol, America has entered one of the darkest chapters of racial injustice in our history.
Our Nation is shaken, but we will not be deterred.
Now more than ever, Native Americans must walk with Dr. King’s energy as a forgiving and peaceful but determined advocate for justice and equality. In the face of the hatred that seized the Capitol, we must heed the words from his book, Strength to Love: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that.”
Dr. King taught us all to stand united in the face of injustice. He knew that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” At a time when many in Indian Country still lacked the ability to exercise their voting rights, Dr. King stood with us—forcing all Americans to confront the past and the truth. In his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” writing about the origins of racism in America, King wrote the following:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
As Native Americans, we honor and revere Dr. King for his commitment to justice for all Americans. As a people, we must continue to be committed to standing firm, in non-violence, as we face the challenges ahead.
To be sure, we have much hope to build on. In the past year, men and women of all races, colors, and creeds marched in unity with the Black Lives Matter movement to protest the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery – a black man killed for simply jogging in his neighborhood.
On November 3, 2020, we took heed of Dr. King's words by showing up at the polls in record numbers, honoring King’s work, as well as the work of our ancestors, to secure voting rights for all Americans. We did this despite continued attempts to suppress our votes and in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, we ushered in leadership change at all government levels and are making history with our first female of color, Vice President Kamala Harris.
In the face of the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead, we remain inspired by Dr. King’s words that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension it is the presence of justice.” This week, as we prepare to inaugurate the historic Biden-Harris Administration, we must remain focused on safeguarding and building on Dr. King’s victories, from securing voting rights and workers’ rights to expanding the promise of civil rights for all.
The National Indian Gaming Association commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his example as a peaceful yet assertive advocate for equality. We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his commitment to civil rights from all walks of life. Let us all continue to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice and achieving Dr. King’s Dream, and continue to ensure that all indigenous peoples' cultures, customs, language, and ways of life are honored and respected.
The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Wednesday, Jan. 13, NDP reflected on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a prayer service followed by a group discussion. Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds us of the history we must acknowledge and the injustices we are called to fight today. King’s work helped change America for the better, and his perseverance and dedication can inspire us today.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from high school at age fifteen, he studied at Morehouse College and Crozer Theological Seminary. King was elected as president of his predominately white class and earned a bachelor’s degree before continuing his studies at Boston University and earning his doctorate in 1955.
King had always been a strong advocate for civil rights and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the early 1950s. In December of 1955, he led the first large-scale nonviolent protest in the U.S., a bus boycott that lasted 382 days and led to the Supreme Court declaring segregation laws on buses unconstitutional. Over the course of this boycott, King was faced with arrest, home-bombing, and abuse, but he emerged as a strong leader.
In 1957, King was elected as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which worked to give leadership and organization to the civil rights movement. After his election, King traveled for 11 years, speaking thousands of times at protests and demonstrations. One of these protests, held in Birmingham, Alabama, brought attention from around the world to the movement and inspired his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is considered to be one of the most important documents from the civil rights era. King also planned voter registration drives for black people and organized a 250,000-person march on Washington, during which he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” address. Over these 11 years, King was harshly criticized, physically assaulted, and arrested over twenty times, but he never stopped fighting for justice.
At age thirty-five, King received the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest man to have ever done so. He put the prize money of over $50,000 into aiding the civil rights movement. King was also awarded five honorary degrees and named Man of the Year in 1963 by Time magazine. His unwavering dedication to equality and justice established him as a leader within the civil rights movement, throughout America, and all over the world.
On April 4, 1968, King came to Memphis, Tennessee, to lead a protest march with striking workers. He was fatally shot that evening standing on his balcony. Escaped prisoner James Earl Ray was charged with the crime and pled guilty in court, but many believe that King’s assassination resulted from a conspiracy involving the U.S. government and local police. For years, King and other important figures of the civil rights movement were investigated and harassed by the FBI. The FBI had placed bugs in King’s hotel rooms and directed media campaigns to tarnish his image (which continued after his death), and allegedly sent anonymous letters to King encouraging him to commit suicide. This history has led King’s family and many others to suspect conspiracy in his assassination.
Even with his life cut short, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did an incredible amount of work to further the civil rights movement and change America for the better. King’s courage, commitment, resilience, and peacekeeping can be looked to as an example today as we continue to face inequality and injustice in America and around the world.
Civil rights attorney, former NAACP president (STH’87, Hon.’15)
Dr. King reminded us again and again that hope is not a matter of that which can be empirically or historically justified, but rather it is a matter of existential necessity. In other words, you have to have hope in order to move the country forward and certainly to move humanity forward.”
The legacy of Martin Luther King: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. linked the struggle for freedom and equality of the Afro-Americans to the struggles for the same goals of other people around the world.
On 4 April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee, where he planned to lead a protest march. The powerful voice of Dr. King was silenced, but almost fifty years later, his ideas are still a source of inspiration for people who seek peace and justice. Israel claims to have a special relation with the legacy of Dr. King.
Every year it marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a United States holiday, with a special session in parliament. And the Consulate General of Israel in New York together with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish National Fund, pays a yearly tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King by honoring an individual who embodies his spirit and ideals.  Dr. King’s legacy of his speeches and writings contain clear messages for everyone who wants to work towards justice and peace. How serious is the Israeli government about the legacy of Dr. King?
King placed the struggle against injustice in a broad context
President Jimmy Carter presents the Medal of Freedom to Corretta Scott King, posthumously to her slain husband Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
Martin Luther King inspired hundreds of thousands of people in the United States into actions against racism, to end poverty, and for peace. Early December 1955, he led the first great non-violent protests of Afro-Americans in a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott lasted 382 days and ended after the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public buses was unconstitutional. In spring 1963, King and the student movement organised mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. The white police officials responded violently and King was arrested for organizing sit-in demonstrations. In his ‘Letter from the Birmingham jail’, he puts the struggle against injustice in Birmingham in the broader context of the United States. He writes: “Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 
In his speech ‘Let my people go’, which he held in New York on Human Rights Day in 1965, he repeats the message :
“The struggle for freedom forms one long front crossing oceans and mountains. The brotherhood of man is not confined within a narrow, limited circle of select people. It is felt everywhere in the world, it is an international sentiment of surpassing strength and because this is true when men of good will finally unite they will be invincible.”
Martin Luther King was conscious of the bond between the struggle of the black people in the United States and the wave of colonial revolutions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1958, at the age 29, he said:
The determination of Negro Americans to win freedom from all forms of oppression springs from the same deep longing that motivates oppressed peoples all over the world. The rumblings of discontent in Asia and Africa are expressions of a quest for freedom and human dignity by people who have long been the victims of colonialism and imperialism. 
In 1967 his last last major work, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community, was published. He once again wrote about the link with South Africa.
Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally - economic exploitation - provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.
The classic example of organised and institutionalised racism is the Union of South Africa. Its national policy and practice are the incarnation of the doctrine of white supremacy in the midst of a population which is overwhelmingly Black. But the tragedy of South Africa is virtually made possible by the economic policies of the United States and Great Britain, two countries which profess to be the moral bastions of our Western world.
Call to isolate apartheid South Africa
Martin Luther King actively supported the struggle of the South African people against apartheid. In 1963 the UN Special Committee against Apartheid was established and one of the first letters the committee received was from Martin Luther King, according to Nigerian ambassador Leslie O. Harriman5. Together with the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, the ANC leader Chief Albert J. Lutuli, Martin Luther King made an ‘Appeal for Action against Apartheid’ on Human Rights Day, 10 December 19626. They said:
“Nothing which we have suffered at the hands of the government has turned us from our chosen path of disciplined resistance, said Chief Albert J. Lutuli at Oslo. So there exists another alternative - and the only solution which represents sanity - transition to a society based upon equality for all without regard to colour. Any solution founded on justice is unattainable until the Government of South Africa is forced by pressures, both internal and external, to come to terms with the demands of the non-white majority. The apartheid republic is a reality today only because the peoples and governments of the world have been unwilling to place her in quarantine.”
In his speech held in London in 1964, Martin Luther King repeated his call for economic sanctions against South Africa. 
“We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa - the action which African leaders have appealed for - in a massive movement for economic sanctions […] If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.”
Israel and apartheid South Africa analogy
The analogy between apartheid South Africa and Israel has been argued by an impressive group of people, among them Desmond Tutu, South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Former ANC military commander Ronnie Kasrils, who is the present South African Minister for Intelligence Services8. John Dugard, South African professor of international law, serving as the Special Rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories described the situation in the West Bank as “an apartheid regime … worse than the one that existed in South Africa.” 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his most famous speech “I have a dream,” August 28, 1963.
South African writer Breyten Breytenbach wrote after a visit to the occupied Palestinian territories that ‘they can reasonably be described as resembling Bantustans, reminiscent of the ghettoes and controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa.’ Farid Esack, Professor at Harvard Divinity School , told me some years ago that in his view “living under apartheid in South Africa was a picknick compared to the situation in occupied Palestinian territories.” It is not necessary to spend much time on the debate whether apartheid South Africa and Israel can be compared. The bottom line is that Israel systematically violates international law and the rights of the Palestinian people. The way Palestinians are treated by Israel can therefore be characterized as injustice. And as Martin Luther King said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.
Non-violent action against Israel
Martin Luther King linked the struggle for freedom and equality of the Afro-Americans to the struggles for the same goals of other people around the world. He called for non-violent action against injustice at home and abroad. Martin Luther King and Chief Albert Lutuli called for public action against apartheid South Africa. The call offers a practical tool for non-violent actions against Israel. Where King and Lutuli said South Africa, we can write Israel. The call then reads as: urge your Government to support economic sanctions write to your mission to the United Nations urging adoption of a resolution calling for international isolation of Israel don’t buy Israeli products don’t trade or invest in Israel * translate public opinion into public action by explaining facts to all peoples, to groups to which you belong, and to countries of which you are citizens until an effective international quarantine of apartheid is established.
Is Israel willing to listen?
Israel claims to feel a special relation with the legacy of Martin Luther King. However, is Israel willing to embrace the legacy in all its aspects? Martin Luther King worked with the civil rights movement towards political and social equality for people of all races. In his public speech ‘I Have a Dream’11 he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites would live together harmoniously as equals. This vision seems to express the hope of Israel that peace with the Palestinian people is possible. In his Letter from Birmingham jail Martin Luther King writes:
“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to a solid rock of human dignity.”
Israel, it is not sufficient to dream of peace. To achieve peace requires hard work. The injustice done to the Palestinian people should end immediately. And if you are not prepared to do so? Martin Luther King made it very clear that we - peace loving people - should act against injustice. We should establish ‘an effective quarantine’ of Israel, just like we did with apartheid South Africa.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.
 Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, statement by Ambassador Leslie O. Harriman (Nigeria), Chairman, at a special meeting of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (4 April 1978)
 Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, statement by Ambassador Leslie O. Harriman (Nigeria), Chairman, at a special meeting of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (4 April 1978)