Rewriting History: How Dr. King’s Legacy Is In Peril

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A pensive Martin Luther King, Jr. contemplates

There’s no doubt that many headed to the Internet this past weekend were in search of some of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings, speeches, and organizations participating in his day of service. And why wouldn’t one presume martinlutherkingjr.org to be a good place to start?

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Appearing on the second page of Google’s search results for  “MLK, Jr,” martinlutherkingjr.org not only bears his name but also a .org Internet domain, which is typically reserved for nonprofits. Clearly looks can be deceiving. The site isn’t sponsored by any group related to King or the Ebenezer Baptist Church, of which King co-preached with his father Martin Luther King, Sr.

Instead, it’s hosted by Stormfront, a white nationalist group with the mission of “fighting to preserve their White Western culture, ideals and freedom of speech and association—a forum for planning strategies and forming political and social groups to ensure victory.”

Interestingly enough, Stormfront isn’t the only group in the business of rewriting King’s history; the media and society in general tend to do it as well, just with a different motive. While Stormfront is dedicated to taking myths, lies and half-truths to defame King’s legacy with the hopes of turning back the civil rights gains of the past 60 years, both media and society tend to turn King into a man that championed civil rights strictly through nice speeches and long marches. Not quite.

King wrote brazenly in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler 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 cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season…”

King’s mission was expansive, but it could probably be summarized as:

(1) direct action that begot change;
(2) ensuring such change could be forged with persistence into sustainable progress;
(3) never letting those on the frontlines — the everyday citizen — forget that it is their actions and their sacrifices that fuel the civil rights struggle.

So why does the media turn King into some tepid advocate apparently worthy of a single day of celebration and little more? Simple. The media really isn’t in the business of advocating for truth anymore. Sound implausible? The New York Times is publicly debating whether their reporters verify information told to them by candidates running for office. So one of the largest, most influential papers in the past 100 years is considering whether or not interviewees should be fact-checked. It’s more convenient to gloss over King’s real fight and his real mission and pretend the struggle was an entirely different one altogether than present his legacy as it was earned — an improbable victory for human rights won by action, courage, and sacrifice.

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