My Mis-education of Martin Luther King Jr.

 

February in elementary school was always my favorite time of the school year, aside from the end of it of course. But February meant we were finally going to discuss Black History. How could I not be excited? My name is Malcom X. Bowser (Don’t ask about the other L!). I’m named after one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights movement and I wanted to show off what I knew. My parents made sure I knew the rich history my people had, while reinforcing the values that made me into the proud Black man I am today.

The thing was, however, when it came down to the actual class, I felt like much of our history is glossed over while the teacher spent the majority of the time on Martin Luther King Jr. I felt, and still feel the school textbooks romanticized him so much, that one would think he was the only black leader who contributed to the movement. That obviously wasn’t the case but when we are not careful on how information is disseminated, the message can get skewed.

I began to resent Dr. King.

First let me say, I always understood what he did for Black people and the sacrifices he made to achieve his goal. However, I hated his saintly image; as if he was totally infallible to any wrongdoing.  In school I would go out of my why to challenge my teachers by giving the names of other Civil Rights leaders who also made an impact at the time because I felt MLK was overrated. This was looked at as pure blasphemy.  I couldn’t help it because I didn’t appreciate the way he was portrayed like he was a perfect human being; in fact, I hated the way the whole movement was portrayed.

Students are only given what the schools want them to see. By only showing images of African Americans walking these long marches holding hands, singing Negro spirituals while getting beat, and then forgiving the people responsible, they paint a timid, passive picture of Black people. The non-violent philosophy that Dr. King preached was a vital component to the Civil Rights movement, but only praise him then vilify the leaders who chose to subscribe to another form of protest seems like the people in charge of spreading the information have an agenda.

It wasn’t until I began to read on my own that I realized Dr. King wasn’t this perfect pope-like figure. He was human being with real mistakes and real emotions. In school I used to give him a lot of flack about being so close with President Lyndon B. Johnson, but after reading the way he opposed the Vietnam War and was willing to sacrifice that relationship, I had a newfound respect for him. Black celebrities today go on long social media rants about President Trump, and then go meet with him for photo-ops.

 

...the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home…We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.
— Martin Luther King Jr. 1964

Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t Malcolm X in attitude, indeed, but he definitely wasn’t afraid to speak up and be on the front line of his movement. This is not the MLK we are shown as young students and it brings forth a very important question: Why isn’t he portrayed the way he truly was? I believe the reason is by showing young black students who THEY (society) believe the best of us in a non-threatening, non-combative light it will subconsciously tell them to be the same way when it comes to oppression. My school textbooks never gave as much light to the Malcolm X’s, Marcus Garvey’s, Huey P. Newton’s of the world. They are just small footnotes in an already small piece of our history.

For years I had Dr. King all wrong. He wasn’t soft by preaching non-violence. He was actually tougher than most of the leaders in the Civil Rights movement because he put himself on the line and died fighting white supremacy. The school system failed to properly convey who he truly was.

Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains?
— Martin Luther King Jr. 1967

Malcom X. Bowser is a writer, curator, and founder of Urban X.

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