The Agitated M.L.K. I Came to Love

We’ve come to know a more complex King, one who reacted realistically to white backlash.

Comments: 195

  1. So Dr. King was in fact just a human being. An amazingly intelligent, decent, visionary, long-suffering, brave and kind human being. You don't need a fictional hero when the real thing is so tremendously admirable... flaws and all.

  2. @trudds Heroes can have flaws or shortcomings, King included. Sometimes these "warts" drive their most admirable of acts, if not the heroics. Something for us all to remember in an era of demanding perfection.

  3. @Allentown 100 percent agreed. I teach US history and so many of our heroes either aren't all that heroic or "white-washed" to the point where the most important lessons are lost. We are all flawed but the rising to do the right thing is in reach of most.

  4. Dr. King undoubtedly had flaws. However, I don't deem his anger and frustration to be among them, and I'm certain that Charles Blow doesn't either. Indeed, suggesting that King's radicalism was a flaw negates Blow's point. King is a more challenging figure than we tend to be taught; the easy version diminishes him.

  5. Gandhi's image after his passing went much the same way. Idolized past his more complicated legacy. This is probably true with most individuals we've deemed worthy of statues.

  6. The aftermath of King's religious conservatism is something that the Democratic party has not been able to deal with out of the fear of defaming the leader of the black movement. The black community has been inert in accepting the progress on gender discrimination, sexuality, and role of women in the society, to name a few. In a way, King's doctrine is a dream solution for Republicans today: making sure that black voters are conservative enough not to support gay, female or unmarried candidates is a perfect road to keeping the liberal movement divided and unable to put the GOP nightmare behind us.

  7. @Paul You've made some fairly broad pronouncements...without the requisite backup. "The black community..." "King's religious conservatism that Democrats can't deal with..." It appears you view Black Americans as a great monolithic community of one-mindedness. In fact, every time I hear or read someone using the non sequitur "black community" to represent the collective thinking of 42 million Americans- I am tempted to ask "What street does the black community reside"? And yes, Dr. King was steeped in a religious conservatism of the gospel- he was by no means a conservative in the realm of firing up black Christians for "secular" activism. In fact he used biblical doctrine as evidence for social, political, economic activism; in and out of the church.

  8. even Dr. King's "dream" speech should be listened to in its entirety. the first part of the speech expresses frustration with the state of progress in the civil rights movement. king truly was a visionary but he was also a realist. I think he possesed a better understanding of human nature than most people. If he were to come back today and see the backlash of racism that we have experienced in this country, really with the election of Obama all the way to today, three years into the Trump presidency, he would be disappointed but not surprised.

  9. Teddy Roosevelt said "Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life." Duty of Life--MLK definitely fulfilled that part

  10. I believe that the only true alternative to white supremacy is the abolishment of race itself. We accept all the benefits of modern technology but hold-fast to a anachronistic concept that has no scientific basis. We don't take 'flat earth theory' seriously, and in that vein, we shouldn't take race, seriously. There's no purpose for race to functionally exist in a scientifically advanced society. In other words, whenever we start a serious conversation about race, we've already lost.

  11. @dad Isn't it pretty to think so? I agree with you about race being scientifically meaningless, but we cannot pretend slavery did not happen. We cannot pretend the pervasive racism of the 150+ years since the Civil War did not occur. Suddenly deciding that from now on, race doesn't exist, will not reassure the mothers of black teenagers that they no longer need to have The Talk about being wary of police. I believe, as Theodore Parker and MLK said, that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but the arc looks more like a line than a slope.

  12. @dad That’s okay so long as it is not employed as a pretext to avoid compensating the people who were disadvantaged for so long on the basis of this invalid concept of race. Real people have been harmed in real ways.

  13. @dad I suppose it is obligatory to inform the reader that I am a 67 year-old white American man who has lived outside the USA (Africa and Europe) for nearly 40 years I mostly agree with you, @dad, but I would add: Any serious conversation about race must recognize that without an all-too-common desire of human beings to dominate one another, skin color would be a mere detail of our existence, nothing more or less than one of the infinite signs of minor biological variation within our species. But because so many other human attributes have been erroneously seen to be the "result" of having one skin color or another, and because some parents - by definition ignorant - teach their children all sorts of untrue "facts" about people who look different than they do, racism is still alive and thriving in the USA 155 years after Lincoln's assassination and several generations since the life and death of MLK, my two favorite Americans, both gunned down by racist yahoos. Which is to say that our society (among others) is still beset and weighed down by mass irrationality - call it idiocy - with no basis whatever in biology or anything else that is... real. If we weren't affected in some way by racism, it would be unworthy of discussion, non-existent, really meaningless. But it affects us all. That we have managed to elect a practicing and outspoken racist as our President is proof of how debased we have become as a nation.

  14. You are completely right about honoring the whole Dr. King, not just the Dream King. All that he spoke and wrote about in the way of continuing unequal treatment from 1863 to present day accounts, on one scale, for Trump today. He is both a continuation of that trend of unequal treatment and a more specific white backlash to the civil rights act, the voting rights and the fair housing act. It is backlash delayed by 50 years, but part of the continuing 1863 trend. Today the free land and universities are the specific tax giveawyas for particular industries, such as accelerated depreciation (real estate), petroleum depletion allowance, carried interest (hedge fund managers), etc. Direct subsidies include farm and bank bailouts, etc. No wealthy person or large corporation really wants to stand on its own two feet. That is why these special interest giveaways can never be eliminated.

  15. Hear, hear! A great article. I also loved King, while I understood only the more socially palatable easy-going optimistic King of the March on Washington. He was always brilliant, always quotable and admirable, but there is much more depth to his understanding of our nation's histories. Then I was heartily surprised to read his great speech in Riverside Church in 1967, where MLK made the connection between the Vietnam War, and those who encourage and profit from armed conflict, with the demise of America's anti-poverty progress. A quote from that remarkable - and controversial - speech: "“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.” Thank you, we need that depth now.

  16. @Mary Excellent comment. Ironically, LBJ was responsible for both and he and Dr. King were allies on the civil rights act and the voting rights act.

  17. It’s ironic mostly just to those who lived through Vietnam - a disaster for which he bears the greatest accountability - but succeeding generations tend to have a much more balanced view of Johnson.

  18. As an 82 year old, born in the South to Liberal northerners, I am painfully aware of the continuing blind barriers to persons of color, but today I observed a biracial couple and feeling some progress is being made.

  19. Brilliant insight, as ever. Let's have our greatest statesman and visionary in his fullest dimensions. We deserve the whole story, what the great shaking white fist meant to silence and did--or seemed to for a time. Let's hear him in us--where he belongs. And lives.

  20. Great opinion piece, thank you for writing and sharing it. I've just about finished Why We Can't Wait. Such courage, grace, and eloquence. I wish I could make complex ideas and comparisons that accessible. (He shouldn't have had to make complex ideas accessible. At the root of his message was a very simple principle.)

  21. Blow quotes King's analysis of the free land in the West that the government made available after the civil war. Blow attributes to King: "America was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor that would make it possible to grow and develop, and refused to give that economic floor to its black peasants.”" King was incorrect in his conclusion, and Blow is incorrect for embracing that conclusion. The government's purpose for giving the free Western land was not to undergird anyone. The government gave free land to homesteaders. It also gave a great amount of land to railroad companies that constructed rail lines in the West. These "gifts" were not to undergird homesteaders or railroads. The land was essentially a bribe to entice railroad companies to build a Western rail system and a bribe to homesteaders to populate and develop a largely empty and undeveloped West (there were only about 325,000 native Americans at the end of the Civil War and most were not US citizens). Furthermore, the 1866 legislation that opened the free land to homesteaders was specifically made available to anyone who had not taken up arms against the US. It was also specified that land was available to blacks, to women, and to immigrants. Essentially the only substantial group of people denied access to the free land were Southerners who had served in the Confederate army (nearly all of whom were white).

  22. @Errol This distinction is legalistic only. There were significant barriers to black migration west.

  23. African-Americans were technically eligible to homestead, but in practice were unable to take advantage of the law as written in large numbers due to discrimination, racist bureaucracies etc. Real estate redlining has a long history here. And of course Jackson promptly undid efforts to give former slaves land of after the war ended. Gave it right back to southerners. I don’t know whether your point here is simply to be pedantic or to suggest poor white southerners were the ones who didn’t get a fair shake but - um, no on both counts.

  24. @Errol I believe also Native Americans were initially excluded from the Homestead Act.

  25. It is fascinating that Malcolm X and MLK started out on opposing spectrums on the issues of race in America but at the end of their lives, both which were taken away by the extreme violence of assassination, they had ultimately reached similar conclusions about the practical solutions of race in America.

  26. History is not a minutiae of facts. History is lessons. What lessons, you say? Well, that quite depends on the era. In 1963 I was a student intern at the Munitions Building on Constitution Avenue, that day of the "I have a dream" speech. I recall the mounted police, anticipating trouble I stayed at my desk, and missed history. Much to my regret. The history lesson WAS that all are created equal, and are meant to be judged by the strength of their character. It WAS the reaffirmation of an ideal that, like any ideal, lies beyond the grasp of most people, but that guides their reach and aspiration. Of course, King was complex, Of course, he rankled in the moment with the shortcomings of the society he was courageously wanting to change. Of course, those complexities are worthy of honor. I consider it vital that aspirations not blind us of the realities of our shortcomings. Those realities are the vital focus of history lessons today. But such reflection should not obscure the ideals that should inspire us to keep battling the shortcomings endemic to us. What we celebrate on his Day is his reaffirmation of the ideal that we share as a nation.

  27. MLK left a brilliant motivational blue print and strategic plan for action. The whole country will win when it actually happens. Sadly, we haven’t seen enough African American leaders anywhere near his level of commitment who are able to coalesce the African American community in a meaningful way - some will disagree. There are and have been great people in Congress -Elijah Cummings and John Lewis for one - but this community needs a lot more and better leadership at the local level. The upcoming elections is a great opportunity to prove that votes can’t and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Until dirty money is taken out of politics, there should be a “Lobby” that demands and influences Congress to got to war against poverty and inequality, not Iran - but, that’s how special interests work in the country right now.

  28. It is concerning that as we celebrate another Martin Luther King Day some white supremacists are reportedly headed to Richmond, Virginia, the state capital, to start a race war according to people have read their messages. These white supremacists are apparently hoping to use a day for lobbying against gun control laws in Virginia to start a domestic war and cause chaos, assuming they will come out on top. This is where we are in third year of Trump's presidency. What seemed like an upward trajectory of success in the fight against white supremacy is now very much in doubt.

  29. We live in a country where many have lost their moral compass. Trump's election is merely a reflection of that.

  30. @Bob I'm not a gun owner and don't have a use for one, but it sounds like you are saying those fighting the Virginia law implemented without input from the people are white supremacists? Hopefully, I've misunderstood. PS, there are far fewer white supremacists than one would believe given the media attention and the misguided fact that one is labeled a white supremacists for saying okay.

  31. Having read and immensely enjoyed Taylor Branch’s superb biography of King, perhaps the ultimate irony was that much of the richness of his work owed itself to J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover hated King and as head of the FBI, authorized a continual program of surveillance of the civil rights leader, including extensive wiretapping and eavesdropping of his activities and conversations in hopes he could discredit King. It was, in the end, the fruits of that work, often illegal, that helped Taylor so deeply chronicle King’s life and help us understand his true role in the American civil rights movement

  32. This is a great column. Let us honor Dr. King for who he truly was. We would learn something.

  33. I taught the Letter from Birmingham Jail for many years, and never read it as overly optimistic. But it was brilliant about civil disobedience, and that is perhaps the lesson of his that will become necessary.

  34. I appreciate the change of headline from "know" to "love" because it sounded like Charles personally knew King. The attention to King's later writings is important and long overdue. Whether his later views represent a revolutionary change in his worldview is debatable and hopefully that debate will shed more light on the man (rather than those who would simply use his authority to justify a feel good racial reconciliation without real change or nationalist seperalism.)

  35. Thank you for your reflections. I agree with you: When we idolize someone, we see only one side of them. Something else that must not be done is to continue to erase the richness of the visions for the future of Black intellectuals. By celebrating only Dr. King, we seem to be celebrating only one vision, perhaps the most comfortable one for preserving the status quo. I so wish that there was a way to do justice to his power and grace and at the same time weave him into a richer tapestry.

  36. This is an area of recent American history which needs to be rewritten. For too long we have thought that only nonviolent civil disobedience of the most passive variety is appropriate. It’s the same type of politics which paints Jesus and Gandhi only as passive non-resisters. None of them were that. All of them engaged in active resistance, and all of them were acting at a time when others were carrying on another more violent type of revolution. MLK, for one, acknowledged that. He knew very well that the reason that white people were willing to accept his message, in many cases, is because of how scared they were of Malcolm X’s message. I do not advocate violence, but I think that it is in service of the state that Americans have been taught to think that only the most passive and nonproductive types of protest are productive.

  37. Tax strikes and general strikes, if you’re wondering about what could possibly constitute nonviolent hardball protests. The French know a thing or two about them.

  38. @Jackson: My wife and I make our living primarily off of international tourism, specifically in Europe. While Italy was traditionally our biggest market, France has outpaced it in the last year. Yes, this is anecdotal. But there aren’t many people who know more about this subject than my wife. She is a true expert.

  39. @Jackson I would remind you that France is the most visited country in the world with 89.4 million international tourist arrivals in 2018, an uptick of 3% over 2017. Our strikes in the last year have prevented our current government from force feeding us oligarchic changes in our retirement programs (among other initiatives). The French enjoy universal health care, free schools and universities, a maximum 35-hour work week, six weeks’ annual vacation, paid parental leave and an enviable welfare safety net. These rights and benefits did not fall from the sky fully formed, they were fought for over the years. French workers are prepared to consistently fight for their rights that they have won and retained and we look to countries like the UK and the US as a cautionary tale.

  40. After reading this op-Ed. I understand more deeply the necessity and rightness of reparations. Thank you.

  41. @Judith tanzer And where will that money come from? Who will receive it? How would it be distributed? What proof would be required, if any, to receive it? It really doesn't make sense.

  42. @Judith tanzer We should not assume that Dr. King would have advocated individual payments to black Americans, instead of a massive increase in government spending on programs benefiting all poor people. I have not seen any evidence that Dr. King specifically endorsed reparations as some have promoted it in our day involving individual payments.

  43. @atb, you ask perfectly reasonable questions about reparations. And then you just assert that reparations don’t make sense because you haven’t had those questions answered to your satisfaction yet. I guess you don’t really want answers after all. But you are looking at the problem backwards. When you cause injury, you pay compensation. That’s a pretty basic tenet of life that even children understand. Slaves and victims of Jim Crow were injured, and their descendants have also suffered some of that injury. So clearly they are due some recompense. Now that we’ve agreed that decency requires addressing past injuries, we can ask the hard questions of how to implement that compensation. We’ve figured out compensation before, we can do it again. It’s not too hard... unless, of course, you want it to be too hard.

  44. MLK and Bobby Kennedy too, will always resound as advocates and champions of social justice. The huge difference with today’s left wingers is that they were fierce but not confrontational. This is the key issue that repulses moderate people from being in the left. I am one of them.

  45. @sebastian -Sebastian, white people of the 1950s and 60s considered Martin Luthor King to be confrontational. People who press viewpoints that you don't want to hear are often considered to be confrontational.

  46. Two people who were shot for their beliefs weren’t confrontational. Yeah right.

  47. @sebastian King was getting confrontational, and moderates did not like it. Bobby Kennedy was getting confrontational, too. Moderates like moderate attempts to deal with injustice, attempts that leave much of the injustice in place and do not unduly upset those who benefit from the injustice. Moderates want the doers of injustice and the sufferers of injustice to split the difference, so that the doers of injustice continue to somewhat prevail while we celebrate a reduction in their power as justice and progress. A fierce advocacy of social justice will inevitably produce a strong backlash and therefore a confrontation. King managed to set up the confrontation so that it made the other side look bad to many moderates. Segregation was evil, and there is no nonconfrontational way to call it evil. That is how the evil survived for generations -- moderates dislike confrontation.

  48. I appreciate Mr. Blow's obviously heartfelt consideration of Dr. King and the complicated nature of the man- however, his reflections are grounded in Dr. King's writing, and I think the Times could do a great service by interviewing those who actually knew Dr. King, and could comment more directly on his frustrations, hopes and aspirations.....maybe next MLK Day will bring such a direct, first-hand account....

  49. Few people remember that the Black power movements were critical of Dr. King's relative moderation at the time of his death. He became the martyr of the movement for civil rights and his towering leadership became apparent after his death. Just before, it was the Carmichaels and the Panthers that were on the ascendant. I do not know to what extent his Stanford speech was affected by the increasing cynicism of the younger leaders and their embrace of rage, but he had to inspire in order to change society. He prevailed.

  50. And a lot of people don’t remember how unhappy black moderates were when MLK decided to speak out against the Vietnam War. He was early in his opposition and a lot of people saw it as either diluting the movement or unnecessarily bucking the status quo. Don’t pigeonhole him.

  51. Dr. King has been turned into an icon of peace to disempower his message. As Dr. King moved from organizing against segregation in the south to fighting black poverty and powerlessness in the north, he learned racism in jobs, education, housing, and politics was systemic, and white liberal politicians were not allies but opponents. I taught history in an urban public high school, where my black students complained about repeatedly memorizing a King speech for black history month, sensing it was meaningless. We don’t teach that millions of black people rebelled in the 1960s to early ‘70s, from the Birmingham bus boycott to civil rights demonstrations and urban rebellions to the Black Panthers’ breakfast for children program. Dr. King died supporting a black union in Memphis, opposed the war in Vietnam, advocated socialism. He was a radical who knew only upending American complacency and power could lead to equality and justice for black people.

  52. @Bruce Shigeura I agree, Bruce, that our making MLK a national saint has, sadly, blunted his essence as a radical. Nevertheless, one should not therefore proclaim him a Critical Theorist: MLK’s mentors were Jesus, the Hebrew Prophets, Gandhi and Howard Thurman, and not Herman Marcuse and the rest of the Frankfurt School. Losing sight of King’s “beloved community” in the process of promoting some sort of reconstructed power dynamics is a disservice to history, too.

  53. Thank you for writing this articles Charles Blow. Martin Luthor King was agitated and exhausted but you can still lionize him as the truly extraordinary man that he was. No human being is perfect, but he truly changed our country for the better.

  54. At the Riverside Church speech, that King on display. There is the barely concealed exasperation with those who ask to "give it some time," as well as the "silent" majority.

  55. MLK really hit white moderates specifically win the quotes in this article. Those who are too comfortable with the status quo to accept change. That’s something which a lot of people nowadays don’t realize.

  56. As children we often see people and events through a telescope. As adults, with a different perspective, we often see them through a microscope. They are the same, but simply subjected closer scrutiny.

  57. May Charles Blow's NYT colleagues read and understand the importance of this remembrance. It is a condemnation of the moderation upon which this paper relentlessly insists. Time has not diminished the urgency of Dr. King's message. It calls for radical systemic change, and is as powerful today as it was over 50 years ago.

  58. It is well to remember that land grants and public education empowered a "white European peasantry" who responded by behaving as though it was their just desert. Instead of prompting a spirit of generosity it spawned the religion of entitlement, that "manifest destiny" which haunts our country to this day. Those who rally for making American great again would do well to remember that greatness is a measure of size. Making America aware and mindful of the needs of others is a far more radical stance.

  59. Here in Atlanta, MLK's hometown, we take great pride in his lasting achievements while embracing the memory of the living, breathing, blessedly imperfect individual who prayed, preached, led, and walked among us. His wisdom is still needed in these confusing times, where hypocrisy, groupthink, and double standards can be seen in some surprising places. As a member of Atlanta's Jewish community, which played a major, if under-recognized, role in the civil rights movement, it pains me to see the Anti-Semitism that has taken hold more strongly than ever within certain African American communities--something Dr. King would have condemned. It's also difficult to see our young generation too often overextend the word "racist," substituting emotional reasoning for logic and shutting down discourse. It trivializes the misery that African Americans suffered here for centuries and contributes to the cult of "wokeness" that can feel closer to egoism, pretension, and fashion than to the humanism of King or Gandhi. Today we live in an imperfect but amazingly evolved country, a dazzlingly diverse nation where cultures co-exist and dreams come true for anyone who values education, hard work, accountability, respect for others, and thinking for oneself. The biggest "sin" of young Americans today may be their ignorance of the extreme racism, sexism, and xenophobia that flourish in so many countries (China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Mexico, etc) where diversity would be but a dream.

  60. @Dr. Warren Excellent comment.

  61. “It’s worse somewhere else” is a really weak way to critique the modern strategies of young people in combating racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. as they experience it.

  62. @Leah T. Nice, except I am not critiquing strategies. I am lamenting their mindsets, which too often seem narrow, conformist, fragile, and lacking in awareness of far more authentic, overt bigotry often unaddressed by civil law in so many major countries around the world. It renders their perspectives extreme and, ironically, out of touch.

  63. We still have John Lewis who walked and believed and worked with Mr. King. For Lewis I am so grateful. I am so sorry he was diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, but notice even so, he remains active as can be, and always will. We can depend on him, and how many people can we say that about? Many will never know the depths of what it took to try to make a difference for Civil Rights. We may go about our business like nothing is wrong, like everything is just ok. We may not take the time or credence to be aware. And that is why King’s work and message resounds yet today, and why people like John Lewis are still devoted. Things are not ok. They will never be ok until everyone is treated with respect, no matter color of skin, religion, culture, background. Martin Luther King would want us to still live for equality and the right in what we do, what we say, what we teach our kids, how we lead our lives. His message was that in living in decency, without prejudice, in treating people with dignity and standing for right and justice and living it, life for good will prevail and his message will be everlasting. He asked not extraordinary, but what should be ordinary, what should be part of life - every single day.

  64. What is wrong with America now? I bought the message of the past and it was vibrant in the 1960s. America is not condemned to the current violent and virulent of attacks on truth, freedom and justice. Nothing is beyond future dreams and shock of the past when Martin, Robert and John got shot. Australians don't tote guns. My comment to Americans is to vote thoughtfully. Vote for America not mini court frumps adulating he, Trump. Mitch and Pompeo have written their footnotes as closet royalists without vision for the US and the world in two hundred years. Loyalty sans morality is classic regal privilege sad but vulgar and a practice revolted by Europeans. America might try placing Ms Pelosi as head of state according to traditions of European parliaments while US faces examination concerning complicit winks and nods re Trumpian defiance of Court and Congress. Ms Pelosi is ethical.

  65. Thank you, Mr. Blow for highlighting Dr. King's brilliant and courageous "The Other America" speech. It's as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1967 and a stark reminder that any perception that "the white comfort zone" is being infringed upon is still largely taboo in today's political landscape.

  66. We all have the same radicalism and the same realism within us along with the possibility for justice, freedom and equal rights for all. We do not have to do speeches, but we do have to stand up and be heard or counted - especially when it matters. Of course many of us weigh the cost of a possible backlash, a possible shunning, a possible cost to ourselves in doing so. Many of us are not prepared to pay that cost, so we go about our daily lives making rationalizations to ourselves that we are not this or that. We put our blinders on and smile or nod when absolutely required, but not much more. It is why there are still such wild and disparate injustices within our lives, nation and world. Dr., King's words matter to all or they mean nothing.

  67. This is completely irrelevant. But I love the idea that a white man may have a black soul, a woman a man’s, and so on – so long as we do not make much about it – i.e try to own culture that isn’t ours. Personally, I also think who we are open to great change as we meet with others’ ideas and significant signs and symbols. This may correspond with some theory or religious doctrine – maybe Buddhist. I know but very little.

  68. Yes Martin Luther King was a very great man but how about a holiday for Frederick Douglass who even President Trump has celebrated as “ … an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice." At the very least, I think Trump should have taken Douglass along with him today on his trip to Davos.

  69. He paused a lot when he gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech; he seemed to let every word sink in, by enunciating each phrase and then pausing – possibly so that the people in the audience could consider critically what he was saying to each of them.

  70. Same with Nelson Mandela who is revered as the saintly uncle preaching reconciliation. We deliberately ignore the Mandela who underwent military training in the Soviet Union, smuggled in arms from the Eastern bloc and was much closer to communists than he ever was to western democrats. In addition he founded the armed wing of the ANC. But that view would also expose the western alliance with Apartheid South Africa which was why he had to go the So over Union in the first place.

  71. MLK is widely respected and admired throughout the world and, in particular, in the US. So why is his most profound statement : "judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" totally ignored by those who indulge in identity politics (and not only those who 'identify' by skin color)

  72. Well, times have certainly changed! We're now at the point where our government no longer subsidizes poor Caucasians any more readily than it does poor African Americans. The only folks who now receive financial subsidies are the rich. In that area, at least, we've attained racial equality.

  73. @stu freeman I haven’t examined the numbers, but I suspect that if I did, I would find that the rich in the U.S. are disproportionately white.

  74. The arc of the moral universe has gone out of view. It may be sagging in the time of Trump, Putin, and the rising authoritariat. The arc may have flattened. Would that we had another King to assure us that it will yet bend back toward justice.

  75. He wasn't too tired to cheat on his wife, though. We really need to be careful about making anyone, of any color, into an all-knowing hero. King was not entirely opposed to the objectification of women.

  76. Thank you, Mr. Blow. You taught me something about my great-grandparents, peasants, who immigrated here from eastern Europe in the late 1800s. My grandparents took over their farms, and my mother told us stories that made me admire how strong they were and how hard they worked. How the government helped my ancestors, and how the blacks were shortchanged back then, was never a part of the story. Thankfully, though, my parents did manage to raise four of us without prejudice in a mostly white community, and today none of us is okay with the status quo. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  77. Mr. Blow, I idolize the Rev. Dr. King when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. Dr. King spoke for all Americans, poor and working class Blacks and Whites subjected to fight a war that excluded the one percenters. Dr. King saw the injustices of the Vietnam War as a clear example of how upper class Americans continued to wage war on the poor and working classes. Let's not lose sight of the fact that Dr. King's message evolved as he saw the excessive inqualities existing in America - inequalities that were the result of corporate capitalism growing in power as the labor movement was declining and the rigid class system that exists in America. Let's hope you one day see what Dr. King did for all of us as he spoke out against the Vietnam War and learn about the backlash he experienced from the elites who rule America. That's the challenge Dr. King has left for all of us to meet.

  78. Thanks again Mr. Blow! I believe this is the second article in a row where you don't simply bash Trump, bash whites (males) or spin a subjective victim story. Thanks for this interesting article, and while I'm far from extreamly knowledgeable with respect to Dr. King and the civil rights movement of the 60's, I believe Dr. King's courage and intelligence was the catalyst for one of the most important aspects of the 20th century--the civil rights movement. The "Dream" speech is the best and most moving speech I've ever heard, and I'm a 58 yr-old white male, and NOT a bleeding liberal for sure. Please keep the interesting, thought provoking articles coming, as you've wrote enough anti-Trump, anti-White male victim stories in the past three years to suffice for the entire 21st century.

  79. You only have to read one document from Dr. King to understand his entire life's work: "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The letter the New York Times was too afraid to print first, when it was smuggled out of the jail. It should be mandatory reading for all Americans on King's birthday. I require my young college students to read it, and they are astonished, flabbergasted and moved as no other reading accomplishes during the semester. It is the document we still need to begin again and again and again the discussion of race and racism in America.

  80. Free at last - none of us, we’re not.

  81. "Letters From a Birmingham Jail" should be required reading for everyone in a high school civics class - and, quite frankly, this narrowed interpertation of Dr. King seems to exonerate exactly the sort of white moderate that is such a great stumbling block, both in the 1960s and today.

  82. "not only did the government give the land to these white people, it also used government money to start land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm, sent out county agents to further their expertise, offered low-interest loans so that they could mechanize and instituted a system of subsidies for them" This contributed to making America an economic superpower, and would have made America great if equally provided to blacks. The irony is that this would have been cried out as communism and rejected by today's conservatives.

  83. The most overrated person in US history. I’m sorry, but someone had to say that.

  84. No, that would be our current president.

  85. No, Trump is exceeding expectations. You never over-estimated him. He gets credit for zilch!

  86. He’s responsible for the passage of two pieces of landmark legislation: the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Name someone else associated with ONE such law. MLK died at 39 having accomplished more than anyone else of that era, except perhaps LBJ, and didn’t have a war to account for. We’re still living with his legacy. If he’s overrated, as you say, pray, tell how.

  87. No American but a foreign white man who inherited money from a farming family in a somewhat decolonized state (as is said), I do not quite understand what one could mean by “a still predominantly white power structure”! Black investment for the offspring etc. of those enslaved in the past is placed under Government support in the United States, as a way of addressing what King referred to as regards the discrimination in land allocation in the period after the Abraham Lincoln war?

  88. @Mark C. Major I think any form of discrimination can cause problems if one views others derogatorily on the basis of such discrimination. Yet discrimination is important when it comes to identity formation. I see a problem in having an incorrect attitude, or judging others moralistically on the basis of some irrelevant as well as particularistic category in which they are placed.

  89. I have worshipped Dr. King, Martin, my whole life. White woman, for full disclosure. His was murdered when I was 10 years old. Ten years later I was living in Alveda King Beale's district in Atlanta and got to vote for his niece. I hoped we would grow further, maybe that can happen.

  90. If Dr. King were running for president today, the Editorial Board would brand him as too radical, a divider not a unifier. The Times beat writer would write negatively, telling him to stick to civil rights when suggesting our current system provides socialsm for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor. His criticism and connecting of racism, US Imperialism and Capitalism would get him called a communist from the right, and disparagingly a democratic socialist from much of the liberal class... which is what he proudly was. You know who else best represents Kings vision and beliefs? It wasn't Klobuchar or Warren... Bernie Sanders

  91. @Sean If a President Sanders tried to rave and rant his way to defeat a Senate filibuster of a bill that copied the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then black people would still be unable to drink from public water fountains in thirteen states and black tourists would still need the Green Book. Bernie Sanders may espouse the same radical socialism that Dr. King thought was necessary in the long run, but Dr. King also knew that to achieve short-term progress, a wily pragmatic practitioner like LBJ was also necessary.

  92. @Buster Bronx Buster, Bernie Sanders’ new TV ad shows JFK, FDR, and LBJ — today JFK would be recognized as being Revolutionary, FDR would be recognized as being Revolutionary (and were an example of ‘social democracy’ we may get back to 88 years later), but as Walter Cronkite recognized and exposed after his trip to Vietnam, LBJ was only memorable for the Gulf of Tonkin lie (and all consequent War crimes, as Judge Jackson wrote in his Nuremberg ruling). “Our Revolution” is something that Bernie needs to strategically focus on further defining for ‘we the American people’, more than LBJ being a Democrat.

  93. Mr. Blow, as a white person, the "I Have a Dream" MLK speaks to me, while today's discourse about institutional racism and the perpetual guilt of white people does not. If we're not aspiring to a world of universal mutual respect, based on our individual characters, then we're doing it wrong.

  94. @ Patrick, “If we are not aspiring to a world of universal mutual respect, based on individual character, then we’re doing it wrong”. We cannot leap-frog over the redress and reconciliation that needs to happen. A growing chorus of black voices are urging/demanding this to happen and hopefully won’t be dismissed because their truth makes white people uncomfortable. At the heart of this I do hear the hope for mutual respect based on individual character. The the path there won’t be smooth or pitch perfect. No quest for equality has ever been. “Doing it right” is a privileged critic.

  95. @M There is no way to enact reparations that will resolve the ills of the past, or satisfy everyone. Privileged black Americans will use reparations effectively; underprivileged black Americans will not be any better off. For the underprivileged, the question of "redress and reconciliation" will remain, because we've come to see black poverty itself as evidence of institutional racism. No attempt at reparations will accomplish what it's proponents imagine, and will only serve to deepen racial resentment and animosity. For real evolution on racial and social justice, the "I Have a Dream" MLK is still a visionary role model, and the best one we have.

  96. @Patrick “ Privileged black Americans will use reparations effectively; underprivileged black Americans will not be any better off.” How do you know? Please cite your proof and authority. We know that Jim Crow (created to legally and violently thwart the social and economic progress of newly freed slaves) worked. I’ll answer the question before you ask - how do we know? See NYT’s 1619 series, or for statistics of the socially engineered economic and social divide between blacks and whites, just google it and pick which site you like. So, just to be fair, why not give the flip-side of Jim Crow a try? Instead of government sanctioned and assisted efforts to prevent black Americans progress and maintain artificial white supremacy, let’s turn it on its head. Oh! But without all the lynching, raping, domestic terror, and torching of entire communities this time.

  97. I think back at what we, Black and White together, endured during the turbulent 60's. A president, an aspiring president - another Kennedy - and an iconic leader for equality and justice were all assassinated. We came out of it somehow, and when Barack Obama was elected I shed tears of joy thinking, America has done it. At long last discrimination and prejudice toward our African-American community has ended. Oh, how wrong I was. What we are experiencing now under the "leadership" of a sociopathic bigot is reminiscent of the early and mid-20th Century. Pandora's Box has been opened and now includes, the Brown-skinned, the Jew, the Muslim, the Gay. We need a MLK now more than ever. I am sure that if he were alive today he would march and protest and be jailed and magnificently orate his defense of this increasing number of "others." On Monday, we will remember and will be grateful for Mr. King's life and contributions. But our words and gestures mean nothing unless we together continue his work. It is far from over.

  98. @Kathy Lollock We need a leader who inspires. Rev Dr William Barber needs to decide to take up that mantle and dial up the volume

  99. America has always wanted its black heroes to be saints, not human beings. Thus Rosa Parks was a seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat because she was tired and her feet hurt, NOT as part of a planned act of civil disobedience. Her life after Montgomery has receives almost no attention, her participation in black nationalist politics, her move to Cuba etc...all contravenes the image of a humble seamstress whose feet hurt. Like Dr. King, like all of America's black heroes, white people paint them as saints instead of the complicated and vital human beings they actually were.

  100. Fabulous column. Thank you.

  101. Thank you for sharing the more complicated Rev. Dr. King, Charles. I personally become so frustrated seeing the whitened, sanitized version of MLK, far removed from the visionary agitator I recall most white people hating back in the 1950's and 1960s. I can only wonder what trouble he would be stirring up today!

  102. Thank you for this piece.

  103. My esteem for Dr. King has diminished over the years as revelations of his womanizing have come to light.

  104. Excellent article- Thank you.

  105. Mr Blow thank you once again for pushing the envelope we all need to hear and see . . . or had conveniently forgotten. It’s not easy to be reminded of our collective responsibility to our fellow human beings. Envisioning a just democracy is a challenge King insisted we put our sights on and that is nothing destructive but rather constructive for us all.

  106. "As a child, I idolized the narrowed King. As an adult I love the more complicated King: agitated, exhausted and even angry." Your idolization of Dr. King as a child is what psychologists call healthy illusions, they help support us during transitions in life and give us hope. People wouldn't get married without the illusion of romantic love. Illusions are not bad unless we hold onto them too long . . beyond their usefulness. Good column, Charles. MLK Jr. complicated human being . . . like me.

  107. Again and again and again: All members of the Sapiens species are PEERS, NOT EQUAL, PEERS. It is as simple as that.

  108. @Luisa Peers for sure, but only one race. I think biology would disagree with the idea that humans with lighter skin colors are “not equal” to other humans. Inequality is social constructed and rooted. Women are only “not equal” to men in the social context of sexism and patriarchy. People of color are only “not equal” to white people in a social context of racism and discrimination. Etc., etc., etc. with all socially constructed identities. They are essential to creating and maintaining a social hierarchy.

  109. @Trange It is progressively fashionable to think there is only one race and gender, and that race and gender are a social construct, but that ignores irrefutable biology. We are all created equal refers to the basic rights we are all given by virtue of being human. Individual humans are unique however, and most of that uniqueness is determined by biology. We are strongly influenced by our social constructs, but cannot escape our DNA.

  110. @Dr B That is precisely why I say that we are all peers, NOT equal. However, I believe peerness is about more than basic rights. It is about accepting that, although for a society to function some kind of hierarchy is necessary (at work, in sports, in the military, in church, within our family, we all have superior/inferior roles to play), outside that role we are all entitled to stand as equal--as peers. For me, in my daily life, realizing this has had subtle, profound implications.

  111. I love a story about King early in his career. It was 1956, the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. King had spent uncounted hours preaching, marching, and in strategy sessions. It was a rare night when he was home, but he couldn't sleep. He sat at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee (and horrors maybe even a cigarette!). "I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward." In other words, he wanted out -- of the fight, the leadership, everything. Then he prayed. He confessed his fear to the empty room. He was "at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." He says he experienced "the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever." Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything." Three days later, someone detonated a bomb at his house, barely missing his family. Yet he felt he had the strength to continue in the movement. Thanks, Charles, for reminding us that real people make change, not saints.

  112. @Robin Thank you for remarking on the power of MLK’s Christian faith to deter the all too human fear of failure . He asked for God’s help and received it - and the country was the better for it. While MLK’s courage, moral imperative and political intelligence are always applauded, the divine source of his message and commitment to continued sacrifice and action was the core of this mans life.

  113. @Robin What a beautiful comment, thank you.

  114. @Robin A Garden of Gethsemane moment.

  115. Who does not love MLK? He is loved all over the world. He is in the same team as with Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. His “ I have a dream “ is unparalleled inspiration for all humanity . In American politics MLK, Lincoln and FDR are the people’s leader. I love Rosa Parks for courage. At this moment of our history, we need another MLK like courageous honest compassionate leader in America———black or white.

  116. If I have come to one compassionate conclusion about Martin, Jack, and Bobby, it's this: They were very human. They were also very courageous; a courage that needed more than ever in this world, and that makes their stories still as compelling today as they were 50 years ago. As always, great writing, Mr Blow.

  117. @Tim McCracken : What so sadly comes to mind after reading your letter is the missing postscript. Yes their contributions were historic as were their lives but where are we as a country since then?

  118. I am at a loss to explain why no one has emerged in this day and age with mass murder in the streets, white supremacy on the rise, and hatred toward other people as the next MLK . The right seems to have their adored leader in Trump, but for decades no one has captured the hearts and minds of the left to bring the people together. Obama is the closest thing I have seen since the 60's. But, I think, you could argue he fell short. Whoever it is, I think, really needs to be outside the political world to be most effective. The best leaders aren't looking for something for themselves. Not running for anything. No ulterior motive beyond the cause. Years ago, I could understand why no one would be willing to take the risk associated with leading such the movement. That risk is likely much higher today. There are certainly lots of people on the right who would be willing to sacrifice their life to prevent another civil rights movement leader to gain traction. But if ever there was a time and a need , now is it.

  119. By tomorrow when our three day weekend is over we will have forgot what MLK was fighting for. That’s why the problems he was trying to bring to our attention (never mind solve) are still there.

  120. King understood that civil rights were only going to go so far. Real change that affects the everyday lives is not going to come with just a change in abstract rights. He knew that the only way to make those rights real was economic change. What made him great in my mind was not only what he accomplished with civil rights, but his vision of what was needed to fundamentally change this country for the better after civil rights. Unfortunately, he was murdered before he was able to make progress on this second phase of his fight for American ideals. We will never know what could have been, but we do have the opportunity to pick up where he left off and push for real change that truly delivers the rights that are promised in our constitution and the civil rights laws of the 1960's.

  121. I teach the Stanford MLK speech in a seminar called Black and Blue: The Policing Crisis. It was King who went to Watts and understood (and was horrified by) the way the state perpetuated violence against blacks in the name of policing. The Stanford speech comes out of Watts. And back then, the LAPD was the focus of King’s deep concern. The Stanford speech grew out of a sense that while violent uprising was not desirable, it was most assuredly understandable and quite possibly justified. King was so ahead of his time, so much more relevant than today’s activists appreciate.He was defining the parameters of the contemporary black lives movement 50 years ago. I often wonder what King might have done today with the power of social media in the era of Trump in the wake of Trayvon, Ferguson and Baltimore. I doubt he would be most associated with his I Have a Dream speech.

  122. We see the same issue in today's GOP politicians who choose to treat Trump like a normal politician. Instead of taking a stand against his actions, they bury their heads in their various committees, pretending that the US is fine. Mr. Blow illustrates that this is normal US behavior. Thus, this is another point about America that is being "conserved" by the GOP. Conservatives, and some progressives, are willing to overlook racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the name of tranquility.

  123. Magnificent. Thanks Mr. Blow. Dr. King would want us to continue in the struggle. He was very human and so we can be inspired to be more human and more courageous in being ourselves and allowing others their unique humanity.

  124. Honor Dr. King by doing the one thing that creates the most change and that is relatively easy to do. The thing that is so very powerful but simple. REGISTER AND VOTE.

  125. When we were at the King Center in Atlanta we visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Words can't describe the impression one receives while walking through the center, the church, and the neighborhood. There is such respect, curiosity, admiration, and love. While we were in the church, I heard an impossible sound: the sound of Martin Luther King's voice, speaking in from below. We went down to the hall in the basement and heard MLK speaking in his distinctive ringing tones. The effect was electric, shocking, thrilling, powerful. It was a young student and actor reciting a speech that King had given decades earlier. We spoke to him briefly after he finished to thank him for an unexpected gift. On top of King's moral clarity, his compassion, courage, and political wisdom, was his skill at writing and oratory.

  126. "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free." MLK Beginning in the 90s and for 14 years, I belonged to a union and for the first time in my life, worked with others who didn't look like me. It was also the first time I heard a white person refer to a black person as "brother" in a way that was free of all condescension and irony. We were all union "brothers." It was not a trouble-free experience for me but there was no more grief from my black brothers than I experienced with other ethnicities, including my own. Mostly we got along. Hondurans, Nyoricans, Yemenis, African-Americans, whites, we were union brothers. It feels weird to say that word today but I think if I went back to that job that I left nearly 20 years ago, some of the same feeling would be there still. I miss it and I miss the wonderful feeling it gave me to call a co-worker "brother" and mean it. On this day, and in the spirit of NOT being a white moderate, I remember my black friends "T" and Jessie, and all my classmates at the union school - Roy West, Frederick Miller, "Cool Cat" Thomas, whose lives intersected with mine and opened my eyes to the world. I wish you well, wherever you are, and also thank you, for your eyes which never saw this 18-yr-old white boy from rural Maine as anything but a brother. In the absence of Dr. Martin Luther King, that experience never would have happened. Therefore, to all my brothers out there, I say, a good Doctor Martin Luther King Day to you all.

  127. @DC Thank you for that beautiful comment. It brought tears to my eyes. We are all connected to one another regardless of our differences. You gave that concept such heart.

  128. I've enjoyed Charles Blow's writing for years. It can't be easy to write about race and politics at the same time. But he manages to write with a lot of clarity on the intersection. I'm glad he found King's admonition to keep "justice, equality, and humanity" in our focus (or to bring it into focus if it's been lost). But I don't think Dr. King would use the word "blasted" to describe this admonition. "Blasted" is a word that will get you invited onto TV panels where everyone screams but no one is really heard. Dr. King wanted to be heard. And I think we need to be careful about loving anger, as Mr. Blow allows in his conclusion. Barack Obama proved that progress and tranquility can co-exist. Trump proves that anger leads to clueless flailing and self-defeat. I think we should find productive outlets for our frustrations over slow progress and back-sliding on these issues and make the choice not to let anger sabotage whatever progress is possible.

  129. @Jeromy Righteous anger is not only justified but appropriate in the battle for equal rights in this country. Dr. King believed in non-violent action to to defeat injustice. The non-violent resister seeks to defeat evil, not people.

  130. Dr. King's actions spoke as loud as his words as they both continue to echo through the consciousness and consciences of America and throughout the world. Alas, his work was never finished, nor is ours. That's why we remember him so often. Thanks for sharing and affirming his legacy, Mr. Blow.

  131. I am a white man who lives with my two black brothers, a grandson, and a friend in the basement room. You could say we've adopted each other. It's brotherly love plain and simple. I too revere the real Dr. King, but I don't remember what he had to say on the topic of homosexuality.

  132. Charles, besides King’s Stanford speech, where is the evidence that millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest were “given” to white settlers? Or, evidence to show that the government “gave” the land to these white people and “used government money to start land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm, sent out county agents to further their expertise, offered low-interest loans so that they could mechanize and instituted a system of subsidies for them”?

  133. Ah, Logan, You have missed a lot of history: @The Homestead Acts were several laws in the United States by which an applicant could acquire ownership of government land or the public domain, typically called a homestead. In all, more than 160 million acres (650 thousand km2; 250 thousand sq mi) of public land, or nearly 10 percent of the total area of the United States, was given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders; most of the homesteads were west of the Mississippi River.Will Logan

  134. I wonder if the Stanford speech was the first famous use of the conservative “by your own bootstraps” image. How ironic to see the phrase used with such piercing subtle perception by Dr. King to demonstrate white sanctimonious inconsistency over so many decades. Reparation for our nation’s negligence is only fair, and TV pundits who call it an “extreme” position are complicit in this longstanding hypocrisy.

  135. Give in to anger and resentment? Where does that get you? How is that being better than the people you denigrate and oppose? We honor MLK because he (mostly) did not.

  136. He didn’t give in to it, but Dr Martin Luther King was angry.

  137. I’ve read many of King’s writings and listened to many of his speeches, and, from what I can remember, he never attacked “white people’s” hypocrisy, at least publicly. Instead, King attacked the hypocrisy of those whites who claimed to be supportive, but who preferred tranquility to justice, who temporized, saying “Not too fast, not now, don’t be radical, be patient, careful of the backlash, we have to move slowly.” King was smart enough to realize that by creating racial categories, by being racist and casting all white people as enemies of progress, he shrank his support instead of expanding it. So he didn’t. Instead, he cast the problem as “moderates.” He gave whites the choice: are you an obstructionist moderate or are you truly supportive? And if they said, hey, you are right, moderation is obstruction, he gained another white convert and didn’t alienate his white allies. Unfortunately, too many people, clearly including you, Charles, have forgotten that simple lesson. White people are not the problem. People who are not truly supportive of equality, moderates and the racists and sexists they protect, are the problem. Ironic, though, that many black voters, and a majority of older black voters, are a key part of moderate Joe Biden’s base and were a key component of moderate Clinton’s base in 2016. Want change? Support change. Don’t complain about white people when it’s moderates of all colors, including blacks, that are blocking progress. And racism doesn’t help.

  138. As a young white girl (I am now 71), I, too, idolized Dr. King. I lived in a Boston suburb; we had no black children in our school, and it wasn't a wealthy school district. My mother was from a poor area of Boston, my father from the south. When I was 15, I heard him speak against the Vietnam war and the inequalities of sending young black men from the inner cities to fight (and die) while wealthy white men were buying their way out of being drafted by getting into the National Guard (in the days when the National Guard didn't go overseas), or by going to physicians who diagnosed them with, oh, say, bone spurs. I did some work in Mississippi teaching people to read when I graduated from high school, but I didn't have the courage to stay long. I have no idea where MLK got his courage. I didn't have it. Don't know where Viola Liuzzo or Rev. Reeb or the Freedom Riders got theirs, either. Let's not forget that he was fighting for a living wage for the garbage workers in Memphis when he was killed. And he was only 39 years old at the time. Thirty-nine! His work against income inequality was what I admired most. Thank you, Charles, for reminding us about his dedication to the poor as well as civil rights, especially in these days as we watch that gap grow ever wider. Yes, he was complicated. He knew this was no easy problem to solve. And he gave his life for it.

  139. @Zander1948 My parents were aghast at "hippies" and other bums protesting the war in Vietnam. But I still remember the profound relief and joy when my older brother received a 1Y rating on his pre-induction physical. Of course there was worry too - and my mom immediately took him to a cardiologist who said he couldn't hear the heart murmur that got him out of the army. At 72 he has never had any heart problems since then!

  140. @Zander1948 We still have courageous, honest and truly civic minded leaders. They're there. The hard part is recognizing who they are through the noise filters we now have to contend with.

  141. @Rima Regas Who do you have in mind? I need a shot of optimism...

  142. As a New York City kid who has lived and worked in the deep south for 15 years, it is clearer to me than ever that racism is America’s original sin, one that may never be overcome. Yes, there had been some progress thanks to Dr. King and other great leaders. But we are a long way from achieving the dream he so brilliantly articulated nearly 60 years ago. Given our current hate-filled environment, it seems like we’re losing the gains we have made.

  143. @Mark Siegel Maybe those gains were illusory. If there was a referendum today in the eleven states of the confederacy, Jim Crow laws would be reinstated.

  144. @Mark Siegel I completely agree - and all you have to do is read the front page of NYT today. If blond, white girls (from "good homes") were disappearing from any part of this country, as native American girls/women are, there would be overwhelming ongoing investigations, with continual press coverage. Yes, racism exists in many forms.

  145. @Mark Siegel Acknowledgement and acceptance of "America's original sin"is an imperative first step toward reconciliation and peace .

  146. The saddest tragedy will be having to tell our children that we still cannot find within ourselves the courage to fully realize Dr. King's dream. And that we hope they can find forgiveness in their hearts for us having to pass the burden on to them.

  147. @Blue Moon Yes. It seems that ‘The Promised Land’ will remain illusory, real in our mind’s eye but out of grasp. We just have to strive to inch ever so slowly but surely towards ‘living the dream.’ Someday, we shall overcome. Thanks for what you wrote, as always. Take care.

  148. @Blue Moon And it's not just his call for racial justice. It was also his "agitation" for peace and social justice for all Americans. It is for that I still remember him: "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government." We needed his voice then. We still need it today.

  149. @NM I tend to think a lot about the future of humanity. I'm not talking about climate change or nuclear war, although I do worry about those things, but more about the ascent of AI. We have some immediate issues with that, but I am more concerned that it will mean the end of us; not in ten years, or a hundred years, but perhaps on the order of 1000 years from now. But that is just the blink of an eye on the grand scale of things. I suspect that the gap between us and those who come after us will be far greater than the gap between us and those who most immediately preceded us. I wonder what these future beings will think of us. They will surely make progress in math and science at an infinitely faster rate. What will we wind up leaving them that they might consider to be of lasting value? Maybe if we continue to honor the vision of MLK Jr. by expending considerable energy on issues of equality and justice, despite our myriad flaws, frailties and limitations, that will be most significant to them. Perhaps it will even prove to be our most important contribution on the infinite staircase of evolution.

  150. a good article with a poor title.king was a hero, brave, bright and passionate. that is not agitation, except in the sense white segregationists used to talk about outside agitators.

  151. @Will Logan You ask, where is the evidence that millions of acres were given to white people, and government money was used to establish land grant colleges? We know those things happened, because they are part of history. Westward expansion by mostly white settlers occurred throughout the 19th century. The land they settled was free for them. The land grant colleges are still there, which is all the proof you need, I would think.

  152. Please provide a reference of some sort.

  153. @Will Logan The following is from Wikipedia: The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 was the first land rush into the Unassigned Lands. The area that was opened to settlement included all or part of the Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties of the US state of Oklahoma.[1] The land run started at high noon on April 22, 1889, with an estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres (8,000 km2).[2] The Unassigned Lands were considered some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 was passed and signed into law with an amendment by Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the two million acres (8,000 km²) for settlement. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed settlers to claim lots of up to 160 acres (0.65 km2), provided that they lived on the land and improved it.[2] Also, look up "Land-grant university" on Wikipedia. The page contains a wealth of information.

  154. A couple of years ago I was sitting in the audience for a MLK Day lecture at a large university. The president of the institution stepped up to welcome the assembled and spoke of some good news, that she just appointed new Diversity Officer for the school. Now, while "good" as a necessary element to insure equality, I found the news "sad" that here we were all these years after MLK shook the Nation into examining once again the aspirational goals of our founding, that we STILL needed a Diversity Officer. Much more work to do ... agitation needed. Thanks for the thoughtful essay!

  155. I was lucky enough to be standing at the bottom steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the Dream speech. I’m glad you have come to see the speech and the man in his entirety but as you belatedly find, he was always the complete advocate for justice. He spoke out against the Vietnam war and was murdered while advocating for underpaid workers. The nation is remembering the great man today but his dream is not yet reality.

  156. I worked in the Texas Legislature in 2017 for a black representative, who authored and passed a jail reform bill. He fought tooth and nail to get it passed. The first thing the sheriffs wanted stripped from the bill was a non-binding preamble that simply stated the fact that there were racial inequalities in traffic stops in Texas. They didn’t like the fact that the data exposed their racial bias and refused to negotiate on the bill until that was taken out. After months of fighting to pass the bill, my boss’s version was killed in committee and the senate companion was passed by a white senator as a watered down version. He got the credit for the bill and my boss got the blame for its perceived shortcomings. That is the state of race in America. Black people are treated this way because white people give each other a pass. White people are too afraid to confront each other.

  157. Thanks for a very inciteful article. Indeed, King was more than "Turn the other cheek"; a man of humility and courage who fought injustices in the face of overwhelming odds; out numbered and out gunned. Thank you.

  158. I share the same sentiments on Dr. King as Mr. Blow. He was a much more nuanced man than the whitewashed history books would lead you to believe. And it's not a coincidence that he was assassinated just as he was announcing that Black folks were "coming to get our check." This country still owes a great debt to the descendants of slaves and the bill is past due. One cannot look at the current rates of poverty and poor education in the Black community in a vacuum without looking at what we were intentionally deprived of for so long. A debt is owed, and it must be repaid.

  159. Gone too soon. One wonders what miracles our Martin could have accomplished bringing us together even sooner than we did. Maybe he would have morphed into a government leader who would certainly have curtailed our current cynical partisan political hatred that drives much of our activist-led attempt to get us to forget that we are All Americans in this Together. Yes, there are quotes from MLK that allow his rhetoric to be bent to the current politics, but his soul, the words that snapped all of America to attention, the ad-lib at the end of his most famous speech, urged us together -- not apart. Of course I am angry at that demented coward who took his life that day on that motel balcony, but furious that we all were deprived of a great leader who listened -- and taught. How much sooner would America have achieved our current racial transparency? And saved us from those who would twist his words urging judging "... by the content of their character" into evil division.

  160. Omitted by Mr. Blow was Dr. King's address on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church. In this address he said the U.S. foreign policy was facilitated by the three evils of consumerism, militarism, and racism. He objected to the war in Vietnam. He didn't but could have asked the following question: How many Americans were killed on American soil by the Vietnamese? The obvious answer in none at all. On the other hand how many Vietnamese were killed in Vietnam by American troops? The answer is almost one and a half million. The black and white POW & MIA flag at post offices suggests to many Americans that some how the USA was a victim in the Vietnam War. Quite the opposite is true. Vietnam was the victim of American aggression.

  161. The ways that whites established policies that systematically helped whites only - and prohibited blacks from accessing that help is the definition of structural inequality. It’s the opposite of all American ideals. It happened (and happens, I presume) and few whites know of it or the details. Thank you Mt Blow, for stating the problem so clearly.

  162. “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Now, “Our Revolution” against Empire is coming by firing a “Shout (not a shot) heard round the world” to ignite an essential Second American people’s peaceful & complete “Political/economic & social Revolution Against Empire” — like our first but without the muskets.

  163. Thank you for this insightful and startling reminder about this little known speech of Reverend Kings. The contrasting of how Black Americans and European immigrants were treated in the later 19th century is really quite telling. It underscores, and deflates, the misconception that American citizens whose ancestors did so much to build this country are not asking for handouts, but for recognition, appreciation, and simple justice.

  164. Dr. King was far from ‘angry’. He feared no one and would embrace any powerful person with persuasion.. I think Dr. King and President Trump would have gotten along quite well.

  165. Dr King did not like dishonesty.

  166. The embarrassing irony of King's annual celebration, the height of a simplistic honoring of his legacy and the co-opting of his dream -- is the January MLK Sales advertised widely in papers and on television. As a white male 71-year-old I well remember the day he was shot, and have visited the site. I've also heard many in Atlanta, as well as in Oklahoma and Texas, jeer about the MLK holiday. I often recall the notion that power is not given -- it is taken. King increasingly recognized, and preached, that those who dominate a country will not hand over the reins to those who are not like them. Struggle, conflict, even physical confrontation will almost always be involved. Trump, in another irony, has brought that dynamic to the forefront, with a vengeance, in the guise of neo-nazis, white nationalists, and fascists who fear a changing world. We're seeing the consequences -- a 'leader' without a conscience and followers without a moral compass. King was never needed more than now.

  167. Thank you, Charles Blow, for shaking off the myths surrounding Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement in general. As with others, such as Ghandi and Mendella, the powers-that-be, who were challenged by these people, like to promote benign myths that glorify the individual and let the causes for which they fought drift into obscurity.

  168. It’s interesting that Blow’s description of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s contributions to American society completely disregards the role of his Christian faith in his life. A gifted orator, an ordained minister, and a scholar with a PhD in systematic theology, Reverend King’s speeches and writings are permeated with Christian justifications for his assertions. Even the famous “Letter from Birmingham” that Blow purports to revere uses many biblical examples to support his case. Instead of acknowledging and honoring these realities, Blow whitewashes Reverend King’s significant religious legacy and, instead, portrays him as some sort of secular SJW. Reverend King and his legacy deserve better.

  169. Martin Luther King was greatness incarnate. But if the NYT had been in charge of picking the top Civil Rights leader when he was alive, the Times would have picked Rosa Parks and Diane Nash as the most important civil rights leaders of the 1960s. It’s a good thing that the New York Times covers (and does not make) the News on most days.

  170. Dr. King was a complex and pragmatic individual. He was a man of incomprehensible patience and restrain. His pursuit of love and equality for all was his legacy. He was imperfectly perfect and someone we should all respect and honor.

  171. How about your doing more on what he loved most, Charles: Peace in our time. Not more strident shouting, but peace. It comes from listening to each other, no matter our differences. It's not too late to make a needed resolution for each of us: Speak out, but listen first...then seek a common ground.

  172. @Lake. woebegoner In his nonviolence (like Gandhi), Dr. King was not a pacifist; he was willing to disrupt 'peace' in the name of justice. A people who are entirely and brutally subjugated and cowed by the powerful are 'peaceful.'

  173. Today his speeches would still be called “strident shouting” and “divisive”. You need to hear him, as I did.

  174. Well, maybe this is a day to let a bit of anger shine through. I’ve liked and agreed with most of your columns, but in many/most of them you deal in stereotypes- of whites. As with all stereotypes, there may be grains of truth, but painting with a broad brush is equally unjust when creating portraits of whites as a group- here, moderate whites. Reprising Dr. King’s discouragement, understandable when writing from jail, ignores the realities, then and now. Those three civil rights workers killed, mentioned in another of today’s columns, were white. The thousands of whites that marched, pressured, passed civil rights legislation in that era- easy now to discount- but most were motivated by anger at injustice. Another of today’s columns, deals with proposed new regulations at HUD, making it virtually impossible to challenge unfair housing practices. Check your portrait gallery. Ben Carson isn’t a moderate white. This being a moderated forum, I can’t give my stereotypical version of what he is, however. Shall we discuss Justice Clarence Thomas? I fight stereotypes learned as a child. Every day. Try it sometime.

  175. First Mr. Blow, thanks for another well-written piece. As a young 'northerner', Martin's message didn't resonate much with me or my community. It was only after reading and gaining knowledge did I come to realize that as time passed, Malcolm became Martin and Martin became Malcolm. Not exactly, but their messages more closely aligned than the establishment, who has always tried to downplay Malcolm's contributions, would like for you to believe. Martin was so much more than turn the other cheek. He fierce advocacy on poverty and a war that most of the dying was by people of color are things I will remember fondly of him.

  176. I clearly remember how I felt on the day Dr. King was murdered. I feel that same sinking, tearful shame. and loss, on every MLK Day. Thanks, Charles. We're so lucky to have you.

  177. I don't know what "white moderates" Mr. Blow is referring to who would"endorse order over justice" but for many of us who remember Dr. Martin Luther King's words and presence with a ringing sting, it is, in fact, justice and equality for all that is the primary outcome we strive for, must have, and hope one day to embrace.

  178. @Sally The white people that supported/support the war on drugs, mass incarceration, stop and frisk, cash bail, the militarization of our police forces, etc... So basically the entire Republican party and a good chunk of Democrats.

  179. There's plenty of anger in the 1st half of the "I have a dream" speech. There is evidence that King sensed that he was losing the audience, & switched over to the "dream" section - somewhat abruptly, & at the urging of Mahalia Jackson, who was standing nearby & had heard other renditions of that theme:"Tell them about the dream, Martin!".

  180. Thank you for this fine coverage on MLK Day. I opened the NY Times expecting a number of articles of MLK. Which only points out King's final observation - that it is the white liberal concerned about order more than justice, who is the great impediment to dealing with the racism at the core of America's imperialist history built on slavery.

  181. Charles, thank you for this article, for sharing this speech of Dr. Kings, shedding light on an aspect of the great western expansion of this nation that has not had a just focus. One can even wonder what the agriculture of the Midwest might look like if it had the benefit of a different range of crops. My “other state”, New Mexico, has a history and culture different from most of the US. Compared to Arizona, it is a totally different place with its’ Hispanic and Native American cultures embedded in its soul. How different our entire nation might have been had the west been open to all.

  182. Charles Blow, thank you for a powerful tribute to this man who paid the ultimate price for speaking out in truth. His memory must not be coopted by those who twist his words into useful tools with which to control the message and feel good about themselves. There was much to be done three years ago when our country fell into the hands of the wrong person, and now we have even more to fix. The best way I can think of to honor Dr. King is by electing a government whose officials see every American as an important constituent. Not just choosing Democrats, but the right ones. In seeing this paper’s double endorsement today of Sens. Warren and Klobuchar, I am aware of how very difficult it is to commit, we’ve been burned so many times. The primary goal-get that man Trump and his bigotry out of power, but we can also demand fairness and responsive action to give every American the means to have a decent life. We all know what those things are.

  183. All leaders balance idealism with realpolitik. Certain personalities lean more one way than the other. However, the difference isn't binary or fixed. You're operating on a fluid spectrum that might change dramatically over time or even from moment to moment. There's some reason to believe indigestion contributed to Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo for instance. Something as simple as your stomach might determine whether you're feeling idealistic or not in a given moment. Not to mention the fate of Europe. However, we mustn't confuse realpolitik with cynicism, a bitterness borne from experience and disappointment. You can judge a situation honestly and harshly without begrudging the circumstances which forced you there. I would like to believe Dr. King falls into this latter category. I must admit these excerpts do make King sound like something of a cynic though.

  184. Mr. Blow, an excellent column on Dr. King. While he promoted non- violent change he too was human. He had to experience the anger that comes from white moderates who continue on the road of good intentions to Black repression. Full disclosure I was raised in a white middle class family and my parents were very liberal. I believe in reparation but haven’t a clue as to how to implement. That is for those who are wiser than I and have experienced the institutional discrimination.

  185. the author responds to the message of blame, but not Dr.King's many messages of love. King preached endlessly about tolerance, and little about blame. King preached about the importance of lifting ourselves up, about demanding respect by acting worthy of respect. He encouraged us to respect the law and value education. His life speaks grandly to his words. The author cherry picks fragments of King's teachings that imply blame.

  186. Having written an M.A. thesis on women's efficacy and the healing arts, taught sociology at university, worked as prosecutor and then defense counsel for public servants for several years, and having researched and written a novel exploring the tension between civil rights and the Homeland Security effort in the wake of 9/11, I have seen primary, secondary, and anecdotal evidence of white moderates who would endorse and have in fact endorsed order over justice. What I have always found both deeply disturbing and powerfully suggestive is what Mr. Blow underlines--that Dr. King was murdered just as his Poor People’s Campaign was about to gain serious momentum. Indeed, I find that fact doubly significant today, when this newspaper has chosen not to endorse Sanders largely because he is deemed too radical in comparison to the comparatively moderate and orderly Klobuchar. Mr. Blow is not only correct to suggest that the standard dichotomy between, say, Dr. King and Malcolm X as analogues for levelheaded and reckless activists is reductionist. To this social scientist, novelist, and longtime litigator, what Mr. Blow is pointing to is a much more fundamental problem with American society--a thread that has never been tugged with any vigor since Reconstruction and perhaps much earlier, and which may or may not be basic not only to something to which many whites believe they have sworn allegiance, but to the continued oppression of black people in this country.

  187. Thank you, Mr. Blow, for the reminder of how complex and insightful of a thinker and leader Dr. King was (and his legacy still is). I remember the first time I met the man through his words about whom you write in his Riverside Baptist Church speech on Vietnam. After years of looking at and reading about the caricature of Dr. King as constructed by White people to suit their own fragile narratives, I read the Riverside speech as if I had finally been born into a more real, thoughtful world that made me examine and re-examine everything I ever knew or held to be true but realized that I had been living under layers of delusion and shadows. I will go and re-read this speech, and once again, thank you for your columns too.

  188. This is a compelling, and very necessary piece. And, oh, so timely. Let us all love the "agitated MLK".

  189. In a country that gave the Vote to black men long before it allowed women (of any color) to vote, you can see the problem. It takes loud mouthed, persistent people to get what they need and deserve. Are American women now equal to American men in opportunity? Many would say no. It isn't fair, but it will take hard work and patience to create equality for all. Dr. King was a great leader who never gave up the fight, a role model for all of us.

  190. @Daphne ---Beware of "patience." I still recall arguments my teenage self had with my father in the 60s. He kept pointing to the injustice-incited unrest in African-American communities as "proof" that African-Americans were not "ready" for full civil rights. (He conveniently overlooked the violent "unrest" we call the American Revolution.) Dr. King's profoundly nonviolent response can be seen superficially as a form of patience. That's a mistake, a failure of perception. As in Gandhi's India (though playing out differently there), nonviolence at its root demands a sweeping re-ordering of human societies. Nonviolence is not patience; it is revolution. I wonder how many among us see and fear the savage connections between today's pro-gun-rights rallies and today's "might makes right" racism.

  191. @Jane Hunt I agree with you, but those of us who would like to see a sweeping revolution of our own society must be ready with a comprehensive plan to replace it. At present, there is no such plan, just divisive squabbling. I believe in the Constitution as a guide, but it must occasionally be amended to suit the times. Term limits for all branches of government would be a start as would repeal of Citizens United. In the last election, disgruntled and disaffected citizens didn't bother to vote. We can't change anything if we don't exercise our basic rights.

  192. @Daphne Term limits simply shifts more power to big money and their lobbyists. It is no solution to our current situation. That is the reason the "conservatives" and "moderates", whose enemy was FDR, our only four term president, amended the constitution to limit the president to two terms. us army 1969-1971/california jd

  193. He was extraordinary. I lived in Wash DC studying at CUA as a Franciscan Friar the day he was shot and killed. I posed a brother seated on floor in front of tabernacle with front page of Washington Post facing camera. The composition of the photo was instructive -- here was another Christ murdered for preaching peace, brotherhood, service, and equality. That was 52 years ago. MLK was an inspiration and a model of active theology. My heart remains sad. My hope is dimmed. But my love for him and those he urged us to honor and serve remains deep and enduring.

  194. Thank you, Mr. Blow, for the excellent piece--and for the wonderful comments it inspired. This felt like a significant way for me to start MLK Jr. Day, and to continue to fight racism within myself and help deter racism in my community. Thanks to all of you commenting.