The holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement is a time not only to honor those achievements but to commit to continuing that work. Both those endeavors require us to remember King’s radical roots.
In the dominant culture, King has become America’s all-purpose icon for racial harmony. To make King a symbol acceptable to most everyone, he has been stripped of the depth and passion of his critique of white America and its institutions. We conveniently have ignored the radical nature of King’s analysis, and in doing so we have lost an opportunity to see the problems we still face more clearly.
Nothing sums up King’s this statement from a 1967 speech: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” It’s unlikely that mainstream politicians will be quoting King from that speech on the holiday.