Last week, in New Orleans, I attended an Af-Am Hertitage tour with KnowNola (1). Malik, our tour guide, talked about the legacy of MLK as a revolutionary and radical figure. I’m by no means an MLK scholar — in fact, I’m going to take some time to follow Malik’s recommendation and read MLK’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? — but I wanted to share three things I’m reflecting on today: 1) service requires challenging systems, 2) MLK was not a panacea and 3) blending art and community is a powerful change agent.

  1. Service requires challenging systems and personal sacrifice. Here’s Clint Smith saying it better than I could:

    I’ve said this before, but if you’re doing an MLK day service project consider bringing King-level analysis to it. Don’t just serve lunch at a soup kitchen, interrogate why millions of ppl live in poverty in the first place. King’s legacy isn’t about charity, it’s about justice. (2)

  2. MLK was not a panacea, and many of the critiques leveed against him are critiques we hear echoed today in criticism of black leaders. Here are a few selections from reviews collected by the King Institute at Stanford: 

    Where Do We Go from Here received mixed reviews. One critic called the book “incisive,” while another hailed it for its ability to speak “to the inner man” in a “moderate, judicious, constructive, pragmatic tone” (Where Do We Go from Here?, ad). One of the most scathing reviews appeared in the 24 August 1967 New York Review of Books: “Martin Luther King once had the ability to talk to people, the power to change them by evoking images of revolution,” the author said. “But the duty of a revolutionary is to make revolutions (say those who have done it), and King made none.” The review asserted that the Chicago Campaign was King’s last as a national leader. King has been “outstripped by his times, overtaken by the events which he may have obliquely helped to produce but could not predict. He is not likely to regain command” (Kopkind, “Soul Power”). (3)
  3. Lastly, I just want to shout out a good friend of mine, Vedra Chandler, who is receiving the 2020 Camden County Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Metal. The press release gets to her story (4), but I wanted to add my own note. I appreciate and admire Vedra’s ability to blend art and community. I learn from her all the time about how to do this work better, and it’s great to see her being recognized. 





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