Forgetfulness is a common human foible effecting how historical figures are remembered and imagined. Their cosmic presence and specific cause related influence often eclipse their unaltered fons et origo. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was many things – an activist, religious leader, and orator. King’s personal life wasn’t particularly confidential, however, it was a victim of said foible. The featured image spotlights the rare moments of Martin Luther King: family man. He married Coretta Scott King at the ripe age of twenty-four followed by the birth of his four children. Images like the one above don’t recreate the image of King, but piece together fragments fractured in our selective memory of him belonging to us. The most iconic photographs of King are those captured during powerful speeches, arm-linked protests, or demonstrations.
His legacy is cosmic, borderline untouchable, altering him from being what he truly is – human. Sometimes we forget (the darn foible!) and moments of genuine ease and relaxation show the sacrifice he made for change. How many memories did he lose fighting on behalf of America’s future? During his later years, he experienced severe pushback from former allies in his and his popularity in America waned. At this point, King could have exited the movement and preached but it’s the family man that kept him going. For his daughters and sons future, along with every other black child. However, soon enough he stopped fighting for just his children’s future but attacked the system in America that would deprive any person.
In addition to civil rights, King’s message revolutionized to speak out against, racism, classism, and militarism. In the sermon, “Where Do We Go From Here,” King said:
And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.
Brian Ward, author of Martin Luther King in Newcastle upon Tyne: The African American Freedom Struggle and Race Relations in the North East of England explained to Dr. Gina Caison in the episode “King, 1967” on the About South podcast that King was exhausted during his speech given at Northumbria University. Not just the bone-tired exhaustion of the trip across the Atlantic, but mental exhaustion. He talks about 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. ostracized by:
- Black moderates because of his anti-war stance against Lyndon B. Johnson
- African American radicals who believed in a more militant or nationalistic approach
- White liberals alarmed by the radicalism of the ‘Poor Peoples Campaign’ and his stand on class and economic inequality
Although King’s popularity decreased in America due to the points listed above, the United Kingdom, or more specifically, Northeastern UK happily received him and bestowed him an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University. Ward furthers with explaining why the Northeast is such a welcoming region for King, and he equates it to the similarities between the struggles King identifies in his, “Where Do We Go From Here.” The fight against oppression, marginalization, and deficient representation is something they could relate to. Classism induced by economic inequality reigned in the coal-mining and ship-building Northeast. The ideas that King spoke of resonated with their current predicament engendering massive support from the aforementioned working-class community. This fragile comrade between the Northeast and African Americans activists has historical roots dating back further than Martin Luther King from the Nigerian shores Equiano to the fugitive slave Frederick Douglass.
Douglass spent his freedom reclaiming and reshaping the image of an enslaved person. In the post, Frederick Douglass and the Power of Representation, Douglass’ autobiography is discussed which includes the importance of his stoic figure covering every edition of his book. Representation control’s perception, therefore, Douglass chose to represent, not the “happy slave” image circulating throughout society, but the true unrelenting image of a “fugitive slave.” King mirrored Douglass’ continued his idea of representation in both his personal life and through his works. In the sermon, “Where Do We Go From Here,” King says:
In this decade of change, the Negro stood up and confronted his oppressor. He faced the bullies and the guns, and the dogs and the tear gas. He put himself squarely before the vicious mobs and moved with strength and dignity toward them and decisively defeated them. (Yes) And the courage with which he confronted enraged mobs dissolved the stereotype of the grinning, submissive Uncle Tom. (Yes) He came out of his struggle integrated only slightly in the external society, but powerfully integrated within. This was a victory that had to precede all other gains.
The powerful imagery here controls the narrative of the Civil Rights movement. It’s empowering and builds on his side representing strength against all odds. 1967 King wasn’t sure. He wasn’t confident or cognizant of the right decision moving forward (Ward), but that’s what the featured image is about. A person that realized “that a man cannot ride your back unless it is bent” (King). This line speaks to all those oppressed by racism, discrimination, capitalism, abuse, etc. He tells any person victimized, to speak up and acknowledge the power you have to change the world.
Photo Credit: Lucky Journal
“King, 1967” About South Podcast.
King, Martin Luther. “‘Where Do We Go From Here?,” Address Delivered at the Eleventh Annual SCLC Convention.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 28 Mar. 2018, kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/where-do-we-go-here-address-delivered-eleventh-annual-sclc-convention.
I like this. I didn’t even think about him as a family man when writing my blog, but that was a big part of him as well. Your mention of his humanity is important, too. Often he elevated to what seems like demi-God status, but we must remember that he was flesh and bone, just like the rest of us. I think that’s inspiring. It reminds me that we are all capable of incredible work.