JOHN MCWHORTER, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute Center For Race and Ethnicity: Well, it depends on what you consider his legacy to be.
It definitely is for me, in terms of thinking about what needs to be done to alleviate the kinds of problems that Professor Charles just mentioned.
But what does worry me is that I think that, for a lot of people, King’s legacy is roughly that he led a bus boycott, that he went to jail in Birmingham, that he made a big speech in Washington, and he got shot. And, so, it’s all the dramatic things that sit in the memory the most, where it’s really, for me, the most interesting part of King’s legacy is the painstaking, grinding negotiations with the powers that be, or the powers that were, that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That stuff was really hard.
And it doesn’t make for good theater, that part of things. But those were the sorts of things that really did provide the kind of lives that we younger black people are leading. And what worries me is that I think some people see that wonderful speech at the March on Washington, or they think about King in jail, and there is an idea that what creates change is drama, and so that to complain, to talk about the things that are wrong in a fierce and articulate voice is, alone, a kind of activism, rather than getting back to the kinds of real grassroots kind of work on a national level that King was involved in.
And, so, my sense of King’s legacy, I think, is a little more mundane in terms of the sorts of things I imagine, which is him sitting with his lieutenants, and, you know, hashing things out with President Kennedy and the attorney general Robert Kennedy. That, to me, is what is amazing, because who else was going to do that at that time?
And notice that it’s hard to say that, on a national level, anybody is doing that sort of thing today.
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