When most Americans think of late civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we often picture a unifying Christian minister who used non-violence to advance his dream of racial equality in the United States. King would have been 90 years old this year, had he not been assassinated. We observe his birthday every January, and often hear his name invoked, as well as that of other civil rights leaders, in February during Black History Month.

But in death, has Dr. King been whitewashed?

In the first installment of a two-part series, Jaye discusses some widely-held beliefs regarding Dr. King and the world in which he lived. She provides context for Dr. King’s life, and sets the record straight on a respected, but misunderstood historical figure.

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Several US Supreme Court rulings in June that have emboldened Donald Trump and the GOP, and have left Democrats reeling. In addition, US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, which means the Trump administration has another opening they can fill on the court. Jaye discusses these and related developments, and seeks to place them into their proper perspective. In the wake of these events, she aims to provide messages of admonishment, motivation, and hope. Resisters – be encouraged!

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When I taught political science courses, one of my favorite lessons would be on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That would usually come up in the civil rights chapter of the American government intro courses, or I would include it in my courses on race, gender and politics. The reason why it was my favorite was because it gave me an opportunity to share with my students the real Dr. King, and see them wrestle with it.

Each year in the United States, we take a day in January to observe Dr. King’s birthday. He is lauded as a great, non-violent civil rights leader who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech.

And he was. But understanding Dr. King, and why his message was so controversial and challenging to white America despite his philosophy of non-violence, we have to go beyond the Dream.

Much of what Dr. King said was not only controversial in his time, but also in this time.

The speech I would have my students read was this one. You should read it too.

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

In it, Dr. King speaks to issues and solutions that are still difficult for many Americans to process, such as systematic discrimination, white guilt, the responsibility of the white church, affirmative action, and reparations.

For many of us who are only familiar with a sanitized Dr. King, it’s hard to reconcile the Dream with King’s views on these issues. But the history of race and race relations in the United States, like Dr. King’s views on racism and racial progress, are complex. And we should treat these issues with the seriousness and nuance they deserve.

In the age of Trump, Dr. King’s words – all of them – are just as important and timely as ever. Going beyond the Dream and understanding the hard things can help us to grow as a society and nation.