- Matthew A. Williams
An Uncontroversial Legacy?
Yesterday was Dr Martin Luther King’s 92nd birthday. As usual, there has been a flurry of articles, documentaries and podcasts about his greatness and international legacy. Others have (again) called into question certain aspects of his private affairs. Still, from a black British perspective, his overarching public message seems somewhat uncontroversial, much as the legacy he left.
Like the rest of the world since last year, I have seen racial tensions rise across the USA. Many of us have been included in the complicated implications as they rippled across the Atlantic, and forcefully hit the shores of the U.K as well as many other countries around the world. Seemingly, the whole world turned their attention to one country and this particular issue, race.
Some continue to argue that the media attention it has received is disproportionate in comparison to other world affairs, particularly the plight of the Africans and the African diaspora across the rest of the world. Others (particularly within the evangelical Christian community) cannot understand why everyone can’t just move on and get along. And there are the faithful few who are asking, ‘wait what happened to Miss Thunberg and climate change?!’. Regardless, it is painfully clear that there is an elephant in the room of ‘public conversation’ that many are calling out.
While remembering MLK’s legacy, his example of love, non-violence and speaking truth to power, it seems easy to say that his message was uncontentious. Yet, at the time – this was not the case, there is a reason he lived in perpetual danger of losing his life. Indeed, I wouldn’t be writing these words had his life not been cut short in the way that it was. To some of his contemporaries, Martin Luther King was a divisive figure. Not only to the racist white community but also to those who (for personal reasons) wanted to shut down his message and method of handling civil rights (not all of whom were white). This ought not to be forgotten.
My point is that many issues that today seem uncontentious were championed by individuals who were openly and respectfully antagonistic toward the status quo. Nonetheless, they were courageous with their convictions.
In the U.K., it will take a while for the dust to settle. History will bear witness to what was achieved by all the marching, protests and calls for change. In decades to come, it will be more clear what the true legacy of this tidal wave of action and complex emotion has been. But I hope that the theme of this moment - tackling inequality and injustice (wherever it is found), will be as deeply challenging and equally uncontroversial as the message of Dr King has become, someday.