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King in Context

BRANDON TERRY’S ESSAY reminds me of the words of the late Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dose friend: “Dead men make such convenient heroes.” It is a warning to those who would praise King not to fall prey to selective amnesia and sanitize him in ways that distort his legacy.

In response to Terry’s thoughtful essay, I would like, first, to further contextualize King, socially and historically; second, to foreground the dass politics embedded in who we remember and how; and third, to revisit the politics of respectability in light of today’s Movement for Black Lives.

IN REMEMBERING and re-engaging King, we must be attentive to his historical context and the people who surrounded him. King was not a solitary political actor, and his ideas were not his alone; they were a product of interactions with a wide and vibrant set of people and events that inspired, challenged, and altered his thinking. As Ella Baker put it, Martin did not make the movement, the movement made Martin.

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“Genius. This extraordinary issue reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of America’s most radical philosophers. Forget the dream, he called for a revolution in values that stood in stark contrast with the nightmare of neoliberalism, permanent war, and state-sanctioned violence. These essays will inspire a new generation to return to the source.” —Robin D. G. Kelley