Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Roaring Gold

If you’re anything like most people, when you hear “Martin Luther King Jr. Day” the first things that come to mind are probably nonviolent protests and utopian “I Have a Dream” ideologies. This year, instead, Roaring Gold invites and challenges you to delve deeper into the unacknowledged and misused story of MLK.

First, let’s briefly review the history of the holiday:

The first federal MLK JR day was celebrated on Jan 20, 1986, yet Congressman John Conyers of Michigan first proposed recognizing Dr. King the day before his funeral on April 8, 1968.

August 27, 1983 – the 20th anniversary of King’s original March on Washington – was the event that finally pressured officials into recognizing the holiday. After 15 years of work from the King family, Conyers, and Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, President Reagan signed the bill stating that 1986 would be the first year to recognize MLK Jr. Day as a federal holiday.

The state of Arizona refused to recognize the federal holiday until the pressure from tourism boycotts in 1992 and it was not until 2000 that Virginia decided to celebrate Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson’s birthday on Friday while making MLK Jr Day the following Monday… instead of celebrating Lee-Jackson-King Day (as it was called) all together on the third Monday.

With that bit of history under our belts, let’s review some of the ways you can more effectively get involved and have a fuller understanding of the legacy being celebrated.

1. Get acquainted with his writings/speeches

Memes and tweets can be a great way to inform yourself and connect with a larger audience but challenge yourself to dig deeper and become personally familiar with MLK’s catalog of letters and speeches. Read them by yourself or with a partner or child. Truly engage his words and rehumanize them.

The King Center is unrelated to Roaring Gold or any of its writers but is comprehensive and a great jumping off point for further readings

2. #TheWholeMLK

The legacy must not be lost. The same MLK that is advertised to have said “but one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring,” worked his whole life and was killed for trying to dismantle systems of oppression.

Today’s generation bears witness to the fact that MLK Jr wasn’t spoken of in the same tones during his life that historical and social commentary now suggest. That history continues as broadcasts on news outlets paint Ferguson in the same light once reserved for the sit-ins, marches and sign holding of days past. Then and now, the illusion of pacifism being the only acceptable form of activism persists. MLK Jr and his people were also told that if they wanted to effect change, waiting it out and being respectful were the only options.

Their refusal to accept abuse got him and many others murdered, jailed, and ostracized from the struggle but according to memes on Facebook, he was the example of a “proper Negro,” marching in a finely pressed suit instead of wearing jeans and shattering windows. That angle proves itself impossible to believe after researching King’s works, words and actions and finding that he was in fact considered a terrorist by the United States government.

In this, the era of technology and social media, the opportunity to frame the legacy of MLK is in our hands. Selectively citing his letters and speeches and circulating memes that suggest pacifism in the face of oppression are tools used to silence today’s social justice advocates. Roaring Gold invites you to actively reject these distorted narratives by using #TheWholeMLK in your postings today.

3. Buried Under the Intersections

Within the narrative surrounding social justice and civil rights movements there is no shortage of well known men who are celebrated and recognized. However, in our remembrance of revolutionary leaders both of yesteryear and present day, the erasure of black femme and/or black queer identities is an all too common travesty.

Many would find it difficult to claim familiarity with any of the many black women who lead and furthered the 60’s Civil Rights Era beyond Rosa Parks. The works of Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Poinsette Clark aren’t common knowledge.

The intersection of queerness is often altogether forgotten. From failure to acknowledge the queer sexuality of prominent figures like Malcolm X and Angela Davis to the complete lack of acknowledgment given to Bayard Rustin (a black gay man who organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and to whom much of MLK Jr.’s success is owed), the history of erasing queerness within black revolution is well rooted. Black people don’t need Martin Luther King Jr. to be without blemish in order to recognize his contributions to Black liberation.

Yet, that tradition remains today, with the less spoken acknowledgement of Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, two of them queer, all of them black femme/women.

Black History month begins in 2 weeks; here at Roaring Gold, those identities will be loudly celebrated with informative and intersectional narratives.

4. Making connections between civil rights activism and BLM

The Civil Rights Movement was seen as radical and aggressive at the time–leaders and supporters were vilified and attacked with regularity; civil rights demonstrators even underwent intense physical and psychological training in preparation for protest actions. In dystopian nostalgia emboldened by watered down history books, The Civil Rights era has been rebranded as a polite and passive request for change instead of being recognized as the radical and revolutionary movement that it was.

Though today’s activists may not stare down signs that tell them where they may and may not quench their thirst, the denial of access is still present and is illuminated by crises like Flint, MI; all the while state sanctioned lynchings like that of Korryn Gaines are not yet a thing of the past.

5. Create connections with other communities and lend your services to them

In order to fully respect the legacy and accomplishments of past leaders like MLK Jr, we have to continue their fight for equity. In the struggle for liberation, every oppressed identity needs a seat at the table. Martin is well known to have been misogynistic and dismissive of marginalizations outside of his own. Reaching out to the communities you aren’t always centered on, lending your service or expertise to radical entrepreneurs, and developing a well rounded view of white supremacy beyond your doorstep create the change MLK Jr envisioned.

Did you find this content a source of insight or inspiration? Consider supporting this effort by becoming a member of Roaring Gold today! 

co-authored and edited by: Adele Thomas, Cleo Lebron, Diya Soma, Julia Walker

Read King’s full Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


Did you find this content a source of insight or inspiration? Consider supporting this effort by becoming a member of Roaring Gold today! Click on “Support” in the main menu for details.
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