Sunday, January 20, 2008

A King for Our Times

Around this time every year, as with many, King is on the mind. For many years the "I have a dream" mantra has dotted the airwaves and enveloped the history classroom. I sought to try to begin changing that a few years ago--at least in my classroom.

My students had already memorized a good part of the "dream" speech in their literature classes, so I introduced them first to the King who had a doctorate in theology. I then introduced a King who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 by having students read the speech. Discussions were interesting. This assignment preceded my reading of a few paragraphs of King's 1967 Vietnam War speech. The prophet was speaking, and speaking loudly and clearly, and he suffered for it.

Who is King for our times? A radical King, a prophetic King.

Harvard Sitkoff, a historian at the University of New Hampshire, just published a new biography that recollects--or resurrects--a radical and religious King who saw as part of the call to justice economic equality and antiwar activism.

And how is King remembered by some? Historian Andrew Manis published a short piece in 2005 titled "White America and the MLK Holiday." It is a penetrating article, and deserves to be read and re-read every January if not more frequently. A sampling of lines: "White America loves the colorblind King of 1963, but we studiously avoid the more radical King of 1968," and "King's birthday is a wonderful opportunity for the majority of white Americans to awake from our dreamworld."

While King's "I Have a Dream" speech is a profound and important oration, let us not forget his equally powerful and prophetic musings from the late 1960s.

It is here we may find a King for our times.

[Photo credit here.]

1 comment:

Edward Carson said...

In the most recent issue of the Chronicle Review, the author takes a very different point of view towards King. He reminds many of us that, much like with Du Bois, King had lost some of his following. Young blacks turned to radical views and white liberal felt that King had created this god complex.

Furthermore, the article went on to state that he was stressed most of the time, ill, and had a number of sleeping problems. The author also stated that we must remember that King was a man thus making him a sinner, as the article addressed the recent matters of his academic work and him cheating on his wife.

The article was in favor of King, but pointed things out that many of us do not like to discuss.