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BEN CHAVIS: MLK's True Legacy

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., Special to The Informer | 1/22/2014, 3 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. gives his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. (National Archives)

This month will mark the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Across the nation and throughout the world community, millions of people will pay tribute and celebrate the birth of one our greatest freedom fighters and most effective leaders. The legacy of Dr. King is more than a federal holiday although we should never forget the protracted but successful struggle that was required to get that holiday recognition signed into law.

The legacy of Dr. King is more than a tall magnificent statue that now stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. King’s legacy is also more than a faint remembrance of the past sacrifices and victories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The living legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. should be a legacy of present-day continuing the good fight for freedom, justice, equality and economic empowerment in America, Africa and everywhere in the world. Yes, today that is a big order and a tremendous challenge.

As a young, statewide youth organizer from 1963 to 1968 for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in my home state of North Carolina, I witnessed firsthand the incredible genius and courage of Dr. King. I also remember his militant band of preachers, community organizers and student leaders who had become impatient with the status quo of systematic racial injustice in the United States. Golden Frinks, the N.C. state field secretary of SCLC recruited and introduced me to Dr. King and SCLC. Working with Dr. King changed my life for the better.

Today, my purpose is simply to apply what I believe is the living legacy of Dr. King to some of the most pressing issues that oppressed people face nationally and internationally. Remember when Dr. King spoke out against the atrocities of the Vietnam War in 1967, there were many in the African American community who could not readily make the connection that saw between the issues of racial and economic oppression in the United States and the issues of war and peace in southeast Asia. One of Dr. King’s famous quotes was, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It was only after Dr. King’s tragic assassination in 1968 that many shared his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Martin Luther King Jr. would not have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, there should be much louder voices now concerning the post-colonial devastating wars and violence in the Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, and in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where millions have died. There is just too much public silence about these and other global violent conflicts. Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was non-negotiable.

Africans and African Americans as well as all people must strive to settle differences and disputes without engaging in self-destructive violence. This in part is what I mean when I use the phrase “living legacy” of Martin Luther King. Gun violence is down somewhat now in Chicago, but it is still too high. Gun violence is rising in Detroit, Washington, D.C. and in Philadelphia. SCLC, NAACP, National Urban League, National Rainbow Coalition, and the National Action Network should take on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its policies to proliferate gun sales in America.