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The Politics of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Today is as good a day as any to discuss Dr. King’s contributions to our national discourse on civil rights. One of the things that continues to pop up on my news feed are book lists compiled by parents about where to start with children when talking about why they have today off from school. His words ring true to this day, and every year I feel like I continue to learn new things about him. Children at school still read his words, books that are written in his honor, and study the history of this man for whom we celebrate a national holiday (he is one of two; the other being George Washington).

Basically, it’s a day of service for many and a day of learning for others.

This is especially true for those kids who spent part of their day online. They were probably met with this image (a screenshot) of the homepage of Google today:

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 4.10.47 PM

Today marks so much for so many Americans in this country and, yes, much of it surrounds debates about race and civil rights, but Dr. King stood for other things and let his politics do the talking for him. Namely, that he fought for us to have a war against poverty and that he was pro-union, two things rarely discussed. In the Spring of 1968, Dr. King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wanted to have led the Poor People’s Campaign, but he didn’t live long enough to see that through. At the time, however, more resistance was thrown at him for his stance on the Vietnam war.

512px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_with_medallion_NYWTS

His politics weren’t difficult to understand and much of what I’ve learned about him, including the recent kerfuffle over Oliver Stone not being able to direct a biopic of King’s life, remind me that King was a complex man. A flawed man, for sure, but one with many layers who sought fit to exercise every inalienable right bestowed upon Americans. Yet, so many of his politics are, upon reflection, my politics:

I suppose it’s important on days like today to check where I’m at with my own beliefs, to take some moral inventory, and to see if history’s heroes that I made my heroes have made their presence known in my life in a way that I can tangibly see. It’s a day that I listen to his speeches, read his words, learn more about him in ways in which I can share with family and friends. I guess that if you’re going to actually call someone a hero, it’s important to know, deeply know, why that is. There are two quotes I keep in my office at work that are great reminders of that. The first is from George Washington’s letter to Jews at the Hebrew Congregation of Rhode Island: “…to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…”

The second is from Dr. King and reminds me not just of politics, but of how the lens of my life has to be narrowly focused on my work:

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Happy Dr. King Day.

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