Martin Luther King Jr. should make us all feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, his legacy is too often invoked to support colorbindness, shallow forgiveness, and arguments that our society is post-racial.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, for example, said King would've been "appalled" by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Similarly, Wolf Blitzer invoked King's legacy in a conversation with Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson to critique protesters in Baltimore.
"I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King," Blitzer said.
Although King should rightly be lifted up as a hero of nonviolence and deeply Christian minister, we need to be reminded of King's radical legacy. King's life was not one of kumbayah. He harshly criticized white people who failed to support black leadership. And particuarly toward the end of his life, King began to speak out about economic injustice and militarism, decrying the ills of capitalism and the Vietnam War.
As you remember today a leader who was murdered for his political beliefs, take a moment to reflect on these nine quotes:
On the importance of extremism:
The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be ... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
On white moderates:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
On churches that support the government:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
On the cost of peacemaking:
It is not enough to say 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.
A riot is the language of the unheard.
On the death penalty:
I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime – rape and murder included … it is against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.
What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?
On the Vietnam War and the U.S. government:
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.