MLK Historian Talks King Legacy Beyond Civil Rights

“For him the Civil Rights reforms were just part of his overall agenda.”

black and white image of martin luther king jr addressing a crowd

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clayborne Carson/Stanford University

April 4th this year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. In that time, King’s message has not lost resonance or relevance to the divisions we face as a society along racial and economic lines.

But that message has also been coopted. Politicians, political commentators, corporations, and groups of all ideologies have used King’s words under their own brands.

The most recent example that sparked a national conversation came during the Superbowl in an ad for Ram trucks. That speech Dodge used is called “The Drum Major Instincts.” What the ad didn’t include were parts of the speech that denounced consumerism, including a specific criticism about buying new cars to one-up your neighbors.

Is it OK to use King’s words as part of a sales pitch for trucks or even to help brand your political organization? What would Martin Luther King have said about these things?

Dr. Clayborne Carson, a professor of history at Stanford University, is especially qualified to answer those questions. He’s the director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute and the director of the Martin Luther King Papers Project, a long-term project to edit and publish King’s papers.

Carson joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about King’s legacy, his assassination, and civil rights struggles in 2018. Carson says though King is best known for his work in the Civil Rights movement for African Americans, his work and legacy reached far into an anti-war and anti-poverty movements. 

“He was committed to what he called ‘the social gospel,'”  says Carson. “For him the Civil Rights reforms were just part of his overall agenda.”

To hear more from Carson on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.


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