Martin Luther King Jr. was the imperfect prophet who called upon our better angels. Using religion and philosophy, King appealed to American values and principles, while seeking to connect with like-minded people. He was the right man at the right time in history to change hearts and minds across America and the world.
Unfortunately, Generation Z (1995-2012) and some millennials (1980-1994) don’t appear to be much interested in learning about King, his tactics or his legacy.
In my conversations with black students, it sometimes seems as if King’s contributions are seen as something to be endured during Black History Month without practical relevance for today.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We should not allow King’s legacy and the lessons he taught us to lie buried beneath mounds of grievances.
Blacks have achieved enormous success in many areas. Some of the problems that remain are related to social class and culture. Racial oppression is changing, bringing with it new victims, new forms of victimization and a lack of unifying, prophetic voices.
At this 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, we need to reflect on what we can do to instill a fresh appreciation of his vision in those who have not grasped the significance of his life.
Carol M. Swain is a former associate professor of politics at Princeton University and former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. Her forthcoming book is “Debating Immigration: Second Edition” (Cambridge UP, July 2018). Facebook: Profcarolmswain. Twitter: @carolmswain.
This article was previously published in CNN “Who is Martin Luther King Jr. to us, 50 years later?”