When we remember Martin Luther King Jr., most Americans first recall his “I Have A Dream” speech, uttered on Aug. 28, 1963. Sixty years after this iconic address, it’s one of the only things most of us can remember about King’s legacy, which includes five books, numerous speeches and sermons, and years of detailed correspondence. It’s important for Americans to begin to learn and talk about the complexity and truth of King’s life and work, rather than a singular speech. By refusing to honor all of his work, we disgrace King’s legacy, ignore other aspects of his messages, and misrepresent him as only a political figure.
For example, in 1967 King delivered “Beyond Vietnam,” an oration focusing on the tragedies of the Vietnam War. In the speech, he emphasized, “that if we [the US] are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we … must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” This quote is one of King’s most insightful and most relevant, but we overlook it in favor of “I Have A Dream.” King continues in “Beyond Vietnam,” explaining, “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view…For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” Overlooking MLK’s message of kinship for those oppressed overseas and focusing only on American kinship ignores his other important messages.
King did not limit himself to speeches, however, so we shouldn’t limit his legacy to these orations either. The civil rights activist wrote Why Can’t We Wait about the nonviolent movement against racial segregation, as well as Where Do We Go From Here, in which King advocates for human rights and hope. Through his written work, it’s clear a passion for American civil rights was not the only cause that consumed King; he also fought for humanity and wrote about philosophy.
Although King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is one of importance and relevance, remembering him only through this work ignores his other insightful messages and important efforts, and misrepresents his goals and legacy.
(Sources: New York Times, The King Center, TIME)