‘A Decade of Activism’

For Americans who lived through it, the 60s was a decade of tremendous change and tragedy. While the Vietnam War raged, civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy were murdered. Perhaps no death had as much of a traumatic effect on the American psyche as that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s son, Martin Luther King III, has kept his father’s legacy alive, becoming a sought-after speaker and civil rights activist in his own right.

In the time since his father’s assassination, progress has been made towards ensuring equal rights for all Americans. However, in an interview with The Link, King noted that there is much to still accomplish.

The current climate in right wing American political establishment has been one of redefinition. In the American south, Secessionist Galas glorify the Civil War while downplaying its racist overtones.

Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently gave a speech erroneously stating the founding fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more.”

King responded to the Congresswoman’s statement by emphasizing the importance of knowing history in working towards a better future.

“Oh, I’m not really sure what that is! I’ve been baffled by that for quite a while,” King said with a chuckle. “I don’t know if it’s just ignorance, I really don’t know. I would like to think that all people need to know history and understand it. It doesn’t mean that people were bad, it just means that certain things that were done were wrong and hurtful, and we had to move past that period. You don’t rewrite history by distorting it.”

That idea applies to controversial figures on both sides of history. King’s father only met Malcolm X once, and the two disagreed on strategy, but both have achieved iconic status as martyrs who died for the idea of equality. King spoke fondly of the memory of a man who once called his father a “chump” because of his non-violent methods.

“Certainly Malcolm X would be extreme, but I think he was evolving, and I think if he had lived he would have evolved to another level,” he said.

King himself has been attached to controversial figures in the civil rights movement. He has worked with community leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, but has also been tied to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam—of which Malcolm X was once a prominent member before ultimately rejecting its militant methodology.

Farrakhan has been accused of making racist statements against Jews and whites several times. King took pains to distance himself from Farrakhan and to downplay Farrakhan’s current role in civil rights activism.

“He has significant influence in the Black Muslim community, but that’s not the broader community, as he had back when the Million Man March took place,” said King. “I think he had an incredible opportunity in terms of unifying people, and when he got to where this mass number of people were mobilized, that the message was not clear to the masses.”

King drew links between the current political climate in the United States to the days before his father’s murder. He noted that discrimination is still present, not only against Blacks, but also Hispanics in the southern States. The only solution, he added, is more education.

“It’s my hope that this decade will be a decade of activism, positive activism, as the ‘60s was,” said King. “We’ve sort of come full circle. I’m not sure it’s happening, but hopefully it can.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.