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Sanitizing King erases the significance of his sacrifice

admin | 1/18/2012, 7:30 a.m.

As our elected officials took their places at podiums or waved from cars in local parades on Monday to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., several may have been guilty of quoting a more acceptable, sanitized version of King. However, history confirms that in his later years and just before his untimely death, King had become focused on addressing the economy and war. Both topics were deemed by his supporters and national leaders alike as being taboo. King was fine as long as he talked about civil rights and racism how could this country refute that there was a profound, generations-old problem and obvious injustice in America? But on other issues like economic injustice and the Vietnam War, King was told that he had stepped out of his bounds. Was King wrong? We do not believe so. But todays leaders, Black and white, tend to be more comfortable with the I Have a Dream King. They refuse to admit that King had altered his focus and was pushing this country towards a national debate that, had it been successful, would have rocked us to our very core. Why do our leaders today refuse to recognize the later King and his evolution? Perhaps because to do so would be to admit just how much remains undone. King was never the kind of leader that needed to be affirmed by others. His was a mission that may have only been understood by King and his creator. We may enjoy thinking about King from his perch on the newly-unveiled monument in Washington, D.C., but King was a real radical. He was pro-union, anti-war and an adamant supporter of equal voting rights with access to the polls for all. King wanted no part of being a thermometer that simply registers what others are feeling. Rather, he felt compelled to be the thermostat that changes the temperature and moves us to confront wounds that go deep and have yet to be healed. As we assess todays political leaders, we need to consider whether they are treading lightly in order to maintain their comfortable positions, or whether they are the kind of men and women who are pushing for real and immediate change that will benefit all citizens, not just a distinct, privileged minority.