Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Christina Greer Ph.D. | 1/16/2020, 10:31 a.m.
Each year we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of this nation’s greatest intellectuals ...
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikipedia

Each year we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of this nation’s greatest intellectuals and champions for racial equity and class consciousness. Far too much of Dr. King’s legacy has been distilled down to peaceful platitudes while ignoring his radical vision for working class people. His goal was to build a unified movement for liberation in a nation predicated on class and racial competition and divisions that maintain the status quo and white supremacy. More recently, the legacy of Dr. King has shifted to include a legacy of service, that is, using his federal holiday as a “day on” filled with service and working on behalf of others. It is my hope that we continue to celebrate the full legacy of Dr. King, one that involves a shift from absolute non-violence to a more nuanced understanding of what Black liberation and class emancipation should be in this country.

There is a reason Dr. King’s legacy resonates with so many people from diverse walks of life across the world. Beyond his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered at the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King helped organize marches from Selma to Montgomery and boycotts throughout the south. He was also a steadfast opponent to the Vietnam War and sought to eradicate poverty of all people, not just Black Americans. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. while organizing a multi-racial coalition for his “Poor People’s Campaign.” We see the legacy of this campaign in 2020 with the work of the Rev. William Barber in North Carolina and organizations and religious institutions implementing Moral Mondays across the country.

Dr. King was a prolific writer and scholar. Unfortunately, far too many of his intellectual essays have been distilled to short quotes. Although those quotes capture the essence of much more detailed writings, it is imperative that we take the time to read some of Dr. King’s essays to fully understand the foundation of his sense of urgency and larger understanding of the multifaceted dimensions that will one day lead to a more equitable and just nation (and world).

As I reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, I will remember this timely quote from 1967, “There are three urgent and indeed great problems that we face not only in the United States of America but all over the world today. That is the problem of racism, the problem of poverty and the problem of war.” Sadly, over fifty years later the words of Dr. King still ring true. It is my sincere hope that we will all use this holiday weekend to reflect on the life lived and the ways in which we can continue to contribute to our families, communities, institutions, and our nation as a whole.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.