When it comes to MLK, they only know one line Skip to content

When it comes to MLK, they only know one line

Many Republicans will be quoting Dr. Martin Luther King this weekend. Unfortunately, they will quote the only line they know – and ignore the rest of Dr. King’s words, and life.

This weekend you will see tweet after tweet from Republicans saluting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his holiday. And the vast majority of them know only one line that the slain civil-rights leader ever said in his life: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Republican elected officials and wannabe elected officials will wax eloquent about our supposed color-blind society and how thrilled King would be with the current state of affairs in America. King would never take up for the NAACP’s Florida alert, BLM, or lawsuits over voter suppression. Ah, nothing but sweetness and light! It’s Whites who are being discriminated against these days!

Needless to say, King spoke frequently against police brutality and voter suppression, racial bias in hiring, unequal funding for schools, better working conditions and wages (that’s why he was in Memphis, site of his assassination in 1968, in the first place), and more. He wrote an entire book on those issues published in 1964, titled, tellingly, Why We Can’t Wait.

They don’t even know what else was in the speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. (You can listen to King deliver that speech in its entirety, thanks to NPR.) In that speech, King said:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. ...

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. ...

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

Does that sound like King would join today’s allegedly color-blind GOP?

And if the many persons quoting that one line actually knew what else was in the speech, do you think they would continue to use that line?

And finally, do you think all those quoting that one line actually support the rest of the speech and what Dr. King stood for? Or are they simply trying to turn the challenges of Dr. King’s speech into pablum for the masses – a way to show their supposed bona fides when it comes to race, while not actually doing anything about racism?

So, when you hear some elected quote that single line, ask them if they’ve read the rest of the speech, and if they agree with it. Their answer — or lack thereof — might be very revealing.


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Ivonne Rovira

Ivonne is the research director for Save Our Schools Kentucky. She previously worked for The Miami Herald, the Miami News, and The Associated Press. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)