Martin Luther King Jr. was a revolutionary

Even Malcolm X misunderstood what King meant by non-violence, as a revolutionary, according to historian Peniel Joseph.

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

Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, Detroit Today and WDET will join organizations around the nation celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But while King’s work in racial justice and equality is often central to these celebrations, to truly understand the civil rights icon is to understand how important things like voting rights, citizenship and the health of our democracy were to his political activism and vision. To be sure, King’s advocacy for radical citizenship — comprising of voting rights, a living wage, adequate housing, access to health care, and excellent and racially integrated education — are crucial to understanding his legacy and fulfilling his mission.

“I’d say the biggest myth about King is that there’s a misunderstanding, there’s not an appreciation that he’s a revolutionary.” — Peniel Joseph, Historian

Listen: How Martin Luther King Jr.’s views changed over time



Peniel Joseph is the founding director for the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Policy. Joseph is also the author of the recent book, “The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century.” He says King’s writings reveal how his views as a revolutionary changed over time.

“When we think about Martin Luther King Jr., he starts off as somebody who’s interested in political reform,” Joseph told Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson. “You can see this as early as 1963, with a letter from Birmingham jail, where he says that white moderates, and not the Klu Klux Klan and not the White Citizens Council, who are white supremacist, are the most dangerous people in the country because they refuse to stand up for justice.”

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