Martin Luther King Day is supposed to be a day about remembering a great man and the ideals he stood and died for, and to this day he still casts a larger than life shadow over us. There is not a single person in America who can here talk about race relations or interracial relationships and not think of Martin Luther King Jr.
King came to epitomize the struggle for equality, became the front man of a revolution that shook and changed American society to its very core. It could well be argued that he is one of the founders of modern America, with its racial, cultural, and religious diversity.
He is the ‘Moses’ of the Black community. As important as his achievements and sacrifices were, it does seem to me that his memory, and the cause he fought for, are starting to fall victim to that which happens to all cultural icons and revolutionaries, redaction and interpretation.
As what has happened with others like, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Che Guevera, they become as relevant only as much as the cause they are made to fit in. What they stood for becomes lost in the interpretation of what they stood for by later generations, and even those who were there.
I had to study King’s speeches in grad school, and I indeed found them provoking. Yet King stands out to me as someone who stood for more than just Civil Rights for colored people. He strikes me as someone who was trying to reach across all divides of injustice. It is no small irony that he was assassinated not at a Civil Rights event, but organizing a campaign for justice for poor people. Or that he was notorious to the FBI for his outspoken objections to the Vietnam War.
These though are not the first things I have heard about him, and did not in fact become aware of them until I was much older. The problems that all icons face are that they and their beliefs are often construed to fit the views of those who come after them. They words can be twisted around, their meanings reinterpreted, and the support they received from others forgotten.
I believe in the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. However, I am also careful as to not twist his ideals to meet my current realities where they may not fit, if I were to stay true to his initial intentions. People are not like the Constitution, where they can be amended to fit the current era. People are reflections of the struggles and times in which they lived. If their words do achieve some sense immortality, then the context of those words should definitely not be forgotten as well.