‘Reclaim MLK’ Protesters Kick Sanitized King Ideology to the Curb
Education activists have long challenged the dull, one-dimensional, commercialized version of King sometimes taught in schools—the one where kids color photocopied images of the assassinated civil rights activist and hear a small snippet of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Now, through the “Reclaim MLK” campaign, activists are reminding Americans that King had more than a dream that his children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In more than 20 cities over the weekend, Reclaim MLK supporters held protests and demonstrations focused on the modern fight for racial and economic justice. Several more protests were planned for Monday, including a walkout by low-wage workers at nine of the nation’s airports.
The hashtag #ReclaimMLK also trended on Twitter on Monday, with people posting video and pictures of themselves raising the call for justice. In Boston, activists braved below-freezing temperatures to stage a “funeral procession for racism, poverty, imperialism, [and] gentrification,” complete with a black coffin.
Folks are also satirizing the focus on the “I Have a Dream” speech.
People like when MLK said "content of character" but forgot when he said "One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free" #ReclaimMLK— Bougie Black Girl (@BougieBlackGurl) January 18, 2016
The establishment acts as if MLK gave the I have a dream speech and walked off into the sunset. #ReclaimMLK— Problematic Genius (@SankofaBrown) January 18, 2016
In a op-ed published on MSNBC on Monday, human rights advocate Martin Luther King III, who has previously spoken out against the idolization of his father, explained the need to reclaim the holiday as a day of dissident activism, particularly around police brutality.
“The current culture of police violence is symptomatic of a deeper malaise of racial and economic injustice that black and brown people face every day. In the history of our country, we have had several opportunities to address racial injustice, but we have often been offered piecemeal, limited and compromised solutions,” wrote King III. “So on this day, we call on the political leaders from the president on down to seize the moment, as President Johnson did following Selma, to lead on a bold national strategy to address contemporary structural racism in the United States once and for all.”
King III also explicitly connected his father’s work with the Black Lives Matter movement. “Dr. King has left a legacy that says that when we say that black lives matter, we are indeed saying all lives matter. Just like in Memphis when black sanitation workers carried signs saying ‘I am a man,’ they were really saying ‘I am a human being’ who has rights that should be respected like everyone else,” he wrote.
Reclaim MLK was started in 2015 by Ferguson Action, a nonprofit launched in Ferguson, Missouri, after the November 2014 non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In the aftermath of the killing of the Charleston Nine in June and the December non-indictment of the officers involved in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Reclaim MLK activists have expanded the campaign’s efforts around several goals.
“Simply put: let’s end the cash cow for jails that cage us, police that kill us, and the weapons that empower them, and [invest in] more resources for our education, health, and strong communities,” the activists wrote.