Collage Made by Art Students-MLK
According to Gallup. , Martin Luther King Jr was considered to be the second most admired person of the last century, behind only Mother Theresa.
In 1999, Gallup used a special research procedure to determine the most admired individuals of the 20th century. Based on the results of both open-ended and closed-ended questions, Gallup calculated a list of the 18 people Americans admired most.
The person receiving the most votes was Mother Teresa: 49% of Americans said she was “one of the people I admire most from the century.” King was second, with 34% of the “most admired” votes. Following King on the list were John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.
In the years leading up to his death in 1968, however, King did not appear often among the top 10 on Gallup’s most admired list.
The article also mentions that in 1966, 32% of Americans had a positive rating and 63% had a negative rating of King. This is of no surprise to many of us, considering the year and the activity of certain individuals out to discredit King and others involved in the Civil Rights Movement. After his assassination, Americans had an event to juxtapose his adherence to “non-violence” with his violent death. For moderate White people, it would become much easier to lend support, in a variety of ways, to the cause of “Civil Rights.” Time would go on, and (nearly) everyone in America as a positive view of Dr. King. And because America believed what King did, racism ended right?
Ha Ha Hell. What did Dr. King really believe? It might frighten many Whites in America today? How young people are taught about the Civil Rights Movement and it’s leaders has been sanitized; made safe for innocent minds. Perhaps, it suggests that America was only ready to believe part of what King believed. Simply check our knowledge of the entire I Have A Dream speech. Can the answer explain the situation of race in our country today? How can you explain this answer to people who may not be ready to hear it?
This was my mindset earlier in the week. I’ve worked at a relatively small Catholic School in Central KY for 13 years and developed a good relationship with the school community at large. I’m likely the only Black male teacher the students will ever have. I’m possibly the only Black person they may ever see in a position of authority, so I take my role in school very seriously. The school Priest approached me on Monday and asked if I would speak on the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life at the end of our school mass on Wednesday. I accepted with little to no reservations. However, apprehension about what to say, and how to say it entered my mind. How was I to speak to 1000 people, about 950 of them White, and give an answer to a question many may not even know exists?
I prepared remarks ( Link ), but was never able to put together a written final draft of a speech. I’m not a person who gets nervous when in front of large crowds, but somehow I forgot to remove my remarks from my pocket. Figuring it might be in bad form to remove them after I had begun, I decided to just speak to my audience, instead of read to them. I did ad lib slightly, but I didn’t leave much out from what I prepared. When I finished, I felt inadequate. I’m my own biggest critic. I didn’t feel that what I said was what I should have said. But in that moment, I could’t tell you what I should have said either.
It would be about 20 minutes later, when on our return to the normal order of the school day, that I would begin to receive comments about what I had said. In the two days that have passed, over 100 students and teachers have spoken to me with complements. The collective response told me that I had said the right thing, but it saddened me that this may be all that they (mainly students) were able to be ready for. Right or wrong, the view of the I Have a Dream Speech is sanitized, allowing us to sanitize MLK and then by extension all “respectable” aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. We’ve been allowed to re-label and separate more radical pushes for “Black Power” away from non-violence, even if not true. This also allows us to reject all aspects of the struggle that don’t fit into respectability. It was hard to recognize that myself. It was incredibly hard to tell that to a large group of well meaning, moderate White people. I still don’t know if I did a good job of it.
How do I speak honestly about race, without my white audience feeling like I’m calling them racist? How can America be shaken from the current level of comfort? I don’t know. My experiences based on my race have not allowed me to have that comfort. Are young people today, who by all accounts are more open minded than previous generations, going to be the same in the future? Or has their racial education ill prepared them on the work that still needs to be done? The normal American admires Martin Luther King Jr. I do too. But I’d wager that the Martin Luther King Jr. that I admire is not the same Martin Luther King Jr. many well-meaning White Americans admire. It’s about where your comfort level is. Are you comfortable with part two of the I have a Dream Speech, or can you handle the discomfort of part one. Are you satisfied with the progress- important progress that we have made? Or are you willing to accept the additional growing pains we need? That was what I hoped my remarks would convey. Perhaps they did. It would be a dream.