Recently someone I was talking with told me he thought we should not have a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but rather a day to celebrate civil rights. He went on to say he thought Dr. King was a “glory hound.” That statement took me aback, because I have mostly heard people voice respect for the work Dr. King did for the civil rights movement.
After mulling it over for a few days, I have decided that the person I was talking to must not ever have been involved in grass roots organizing. Movements need spokespersons; they need to be given a face. Dr. King was the face of the civil rights movement. That may mean those folks in the spotlight, like Dr. King, get the attention and much of the credit for work really being done by many, but those spokespersons are an essential part of making steps forward for justice. In Dr. King’s case, he was an inspiring spokesperson and a galvanizing force for the civil rights movement, and he is still an inspiration for those of us working towards social justice. As he became famous, he was able to leverage that fame to help many communities desegregate, as well as help reduce discrimination for workers and in housing.
I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating: In his Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963), Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That still rings true for me.
I have been involved in grass roots organizing and I understand that the organizations that I work with have executive directors and board chairpersons, and that those folks are often the ones talking to the media while many of us work more quietly in the background. We are not in it for the glory. We are not working on the issues we care about for the credit. We are trying to do our part to make positive changes in our communities, and in the greater world. There is a place for us that are quiet to do good work, as well as a place for the spokespeople.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy lives on with the work still being done for justice.
*** Some other quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ***
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things
~ Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“The time is always right to do the right thing”