The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: More Than a Dream

By the time you read this, you may have concluded your teaching about MLK or you may already have your lesson plans in place. We know as educators that every day is an opportunity to build on previous lessons and, as needed, to expand, correct, or provide new perspectives. 

The SJCO and RE committees are well aware that most of us experienced a sanitized version of Martin Luther King Jr. in our own educational experience, one in which he was elevated as a lone hero with a singular dream of peace. This simplification gets used against those who disrupt racism in a supposed “non-peaceful” manner. The focus on “I have a dream…” allows many to lean into the idea that simply loving each other will solve the harms of racist systems. With a narrow memory of desegregation as his primary aim, many rest in some relief that his dream has become reality, disregarding the simultaneous beliefs Dr. King had about worker’s rights, advocating for the houseless, and anti-war sentiments, not to mention that while segregation may not exist in law, in reality it continues to this day in many ways.

We remember that Dr. King believed in non-violence, but push to the side the violent resistance he was met with. We remember him as the leader, and minimize the vast network of accomplices and allies he was in community with. We remember the strength of his voice and his speeches in soundbites, but have not taken in the fullness of his message and calls to action, particularly white people.

If any of this describes your experience, you are in an opportune position to disrupt the legacy of sanitizing Dr. King’s work. This link from the Zinn Education Project, The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You Won’t Read About in Textbooks, has some wonderful resources to get you started. There are lesson plans, adult reading, and a one hour recording of a webinar from earlier this month hosted by Jeanne Theoharris (author of “A More Beautiful and Terrible History, the Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights” and “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks) and Jesse Hagopian (co-editor of “Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice”).

If you are someone who has a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Civil Rights Movement (past and present) and Dr. King’s role amongst many collaborators and how his philosophies developed and changed over time, we hope you will share your wisdom with your colleagues and with us! What does racial and social justice education look like in your classroom, in your team or department? How does it disrupt the whitewashing of Dr. King? How do you connect it to today's BLM demands? There is strength in numbers and in transparency… the more we share with one another our efforts, the more inspired and brave others may become to elevate this important work!