Bloggers weigh King's legacy

What the civil rights leader's message means to African-Americans today.

    King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4 1968 [GALLO/Getty]

    As part of our coverage of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, the US civil rights leader, Al Jazeera spoke to five African-American bloggers about their thoughts on race relations in the US.

    We asked what has changed in the 40 years since his death, what his legacy is for the US, and how the civil rights leader would view the possibility of an African-American becoming president in 2009.

    Wayne Bennett, writer of The Field Negro blog

    I think that 40 years after King's death, the dream as he saw it, has still not been achieved, but I think his legacy will be one of peace and reconciliation.

    Blog link

    The Field Negro blog

    He made angry blacks in the sixties buy into his way of addressing the racial disparity in this country and for that, white Americans should always be grateful. 

    I think King would have viewed Obama's run for the presidency in a positive way. Still, I can't help but think that he would probably have wondered what took so long.  

    My own experiences tell me that we have a long way to go. I work in the criminal justice system as a defense attorney in Philadelphia and it just seems like black men are committing a disproportionate amount of the crimes.

    There is a reason for that. Poor schools, loss of major employers, and a break down of the family structure. We are responsible for some of these problems ourselves. But some of the problems can be laid directly at the foot at some of our institutions. 
    I think, on its face, the situation has gotten better since King's time. Certainly the laws on the books now make it harder to discriminate against people of colour.

    But, behind the scenes and in our institutions, racism still exists. You cannot legislate morality, so we will just have to live with he fact that racism will always be around.

    We just can't let it affect us. As black people we have to learn to empower ourselves, and strengthen our families and our neighborhoods. If we can do that, I think the future will be much brighter. 

    R L'Heureux Lewis, contributor to Black Prof blog, assistant professor at City University of New York

    I think many Americans tap into the notion of humanity and national unity but most of Martin Luther King's more radical ideas about war and stability of jobs are not fulfilled and often overlooked.

    External link

    The Black Prof blog

    King's ideas on social justice, particularly around poverty and war, do not show up in our dialogue and news clips on race. His message is extremely progressive ... and goes against our current notion that speaking out against the war is seen as unpatriotic.

    In his last years he embraced challenging what was happening in US. Now, they take part of his more palatable legacy, whereas in reality he would have been very dismayed by the confusion we have now.

    Marchers commemorated King in Memphis,
    were he was killed [GALLO/GETTY]
    As for Obama, I think Dr King would have taken a critical eye to [him] but I think his address on race would have made King see him as an ally and as an undertaker of what complex race relations look like in this country.

    My own experiences of being a child in the post civil rights era are different to the type of realities my mother faced [as someone] born and raised in Selma.

    I have experienced racism and the price of racism but in a fashion that is much more covert.

    I'm not sure if we can put a timeline on race. We mark it by progress we make  - can we open the difficult conversations, can we listen, can we take the ideas from our minds to our hearts and then to action?

    Desmond Burton aka Afro Nerd blog

    One would readily admit that Dr King's legacy permeates through just about every facet of our current societal structure. 

    Blog link

    Afro Nerd blog

    We have seen sweeping and demonstrative changes in media, entertainment, government, politics and of course in public accommodations. 

    These changes have been so circumspect and commonplace I suspect many have taken them for granted.

    However, despite America's transition over the past three to four decades, we are still pretty far from fulfilling Dr King's dream.

    America still has a great deal of distance to cover if we are to live up to Dr King's ideals - but an Obama (or Hillary Clinton) victory would be a great indicator of substantive change

    I would suspect that Dr King would view Senator Obama's candidacy as truly an amazing accomplishment, if not the stuff of science-fiction. 

    During King's time just striving to see a black person attain a certain degree of personal autonomy, freedom of movement and the right to public access was a feat unto itself, much less (seriously) running for the presidency.  

    I would have to say that at least on a superficial level, race relations have improved greatly within the last four or so decades. It is undeniable. 

    However, we still see flashes of racial violence and intolerance hearkening of an era past. 

    America still has a great deal of distance to cover if we are to live up to Dr King's ideals - but an Obama (or Hillary Clinton) victory would be a great indicator of substantive change.

    I do think Obama's presidency would play a role in changing racial perceptions [although] it definitely cannot be seen as some sort of panacea. A man of colour as president on the world stage would demonstrate a sea change for how the world sees us and how we see ourselves. 

    Even as a black conservative blogger (and many would see that as an oxymoron) I would like to see such a feat.

    Raving Black Lunatic Blog

    Dr King's legacy, in my mind, is one of a man who consistently fought for a cause that brought danger and turmoil to his life.

    Blog link

    Raving Black Lunatic blog

    While he was not a perfect man, his devotion to the civil rights movement and willingness to constantly question and evaluate his motivations and actions cannot be understated.

    For those reasons, his true legacy can never be tarnished and should be an inspiration to all Americans.

    Unfortunately ... mainstream America has chosen to only focus on selected parts of his message, which has created a false legacy for King.

    Many see Obama as echoing King's
    legacy [AFP]
    He has become a crutch for those would promote a false vision of a colourblind society where we ignore the disadvantages heaped upon all minorities and the poor and instead proudly proclaim that because blacks and whites can drink at the same water fountains the country is cured of its race problem.

    This only serves to make it more difficult to fully address the injustice that is at the core of American life, the injustice that King opposed so vehemently.

    I think King would appreciate and support Obama. Although he could be abrasive and demanding at times, for the most part he echoed Obama's conciliatory approach to race relations.

    He was considered a radical, but he was much less militant or radical than many of his contemporaries.

    My experiences as an African-American make me very afraid. I am a young man, but I see a growing trend towards minimising the impact race has had on the current conditions of all minorities, but particularly black people.

    I feel most of America believes that once black people were actually given the rights promised to them by the constitution this solved all of America's problems and the heavy lifting was done.

    I think far too many people see Obama as a magical racial balm that will heal all wounds and remove injustice, but I think he will do more than any other president to provide equal opportunity to all people and that will be a huge change for this country.

    Garlin D Gilchrist,  The Super Spade blog

    Blog link

    The Super Spade blog

    I think Martin Luther King Jnr had some of the most important ideas in this century.

    America still has gaps to go between the dream and trying to reach it - in terms of working for achievement in schools, in terms of income, in terms of housing ownership, but I feel we see that people can look past race and make some strides.

    King's sense of social justice has left a strong
    legacy for today's activists [GALLO/GETTY]
    King always said we should respect our own identity but also respect others ... however ... there have been tensions towards people who are Latino [and] Middle Eastern and quite frankly I think this is something he would have been ashamed of.

    I think King would have held Obama in high regard as a community leader and as following in his footsteps in saying that King's dream was both hopeful and practical.
    He is looking at life on the ground day to day ... and,
    like King, he has very strong anti-war policies.

    Now there is a sense of arrogance, especially in the anti-immigration debate, a sense amongst some that "foreigners are taking things from me", which I think is fuelled by some groups. Racism can cloud people's visions of humanity.

    However, today across many political arenas there are also multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalitions, and many young people now look beyond race to what the future can bring them.

    I think an Obama candidacy would change global perceptions of race in the US in terms of a break from the white male monopoly on the presidency this country has had.
    There is still a long way to go, but 
    I think race relations will continue on a positive trajectory in the US.

    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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