If you’re like me, you probably spent some time today scrolling through the endless quotes, think pieces, and social media posts honoring the legacy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn’t expect anything less on the national holiday we use to celebrate his birth. Dr. King’s contribution to civil rights, anti-war, and economic justice movements have shaped the way many of us view the world. But on a day that is meant to celebrate his entire legacy and reflect on the ways he spoke truth to power, far too many people focus their energies on his “I Have a Dream Speech” A speech that if we took it for its entirety would be an accurate and sober truth-telling of the state of our nation, but unfortunately has been truncated to push narratives that uphold white supremacy, and an acceptance of systems that hurt Black and Brown people.
Truth be told, Dr. King was and is much more than “I have a dream” and if you truly want to understand the man and have a clear-eyed view of his political analysis, I would suggest you invest some time into reading his actual words. “Where do we go from here” is one of my favorite King books, and I would urge folks to give it a glance. It features King at his most clear-eyed and radical state ever. And despite being written in the ’60s, is disturbingly relevant in today’s political landscape.
Along with his deep understanding of the movement, King’s power came from a deep sense of self, a level of self-awareness, and a duty to service that I try to incorporate into my own organizing. Because, as much as the history books will have you believe that movements are driven by “charismatic leaders” the truth is, not only was that false, it was also a dangerous idea, that encouraged the othering of self and the people around you to make one person, usually, a man seem superior to others. That’s why King’s sermon titled the “ Drum Major Instinct” is not only my favorite speech from him but one that we should all listen to.