For most of my adult life, I mistakenly believed that Martin Luther King Jr.’s cause was racial equality rather than economic justice, though the two are obviously inextricably tied. Towards the end of his life, King focused heavily on economic justice and its ties to racial equality. In fact, King was shot just days after attending a strike to raise black sanitation workers’ wages.
In the years before his death, King’s message shifted, and he began to express more leftist views regarding economic justice, including socialist theory, though we rarely hear about this aspect of King’s agenda for equality. (And, to be clear, “socialism” isn’t a dirty word in my book. In fact, I tend to lean that way…)
It’s disconcerting that many conservatives have high-jacked King’s message of equality without considering equity or justice, two of King’s most important beliefs. Like any mythical figure, his image has been sanitized to portray a man who’s palatable to the least radical Americans.
As the chasm between rich and poor grows exponentially, I wish we’d consider King’s position on socialism, economic justice, and equity. He declared:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
I think if we as a country were to embody King’s values like we claim to, we’d question our current economic system, think deeply about why white Americans have better access to good education and jobs, and why there is such a disparity between the rich and poor, white and minority. I hope we can shift the conversation about M.L.K. Jr. to include these questions that King raised years after he announced his dream for America.
We are lucky to have been blessed with a man who called into question systems of injustice and helped eradicate them. Now we have to continue the difficult work of confronting systemic oppression, racism, and poverty. lv, molly