Detroit Evening Report: Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy as a revolutionary

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Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this special Martin Luther King Jr. Day edition of the Detroit Evening Report, we look back at Detroit Today’s interview with an academic professor who says King is a more complicated figure than the man often portrayed.

Peniel Joseph says the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is the legacy of a revolutionary — even though that’s not always how King is portrayed.

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Joseph is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Policy, and the author of “The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century.”

While King’s work in racial justice and equality is often central to how his legacy is celebrated, 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.

Joseph 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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  • Sascha Raiyn

    Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.