MLK's Legacy Isn't Just Civil Rights, It's His Relationship to God

Rightly remembering Martin Luther King 50 years after his death requires reflecting not just on what he said, but also what he did.Theodore Walker, an associate professor of ethics and society at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, is old enough to remember some of what King did, and he has spent a portion of his career studying what King said. His February SMU Maguire Public Scholar Lecture was titled: "Don't Call King a 'Civil Rights' Leader: Toward abolishing poverty and war by correcting our fatally inadequate remembering of MLK Jr.," and it inspired this interview, conducted via email.Is King's ultimate legacy what he did in leading the civil right movement of 1960s or what he said in opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War and advocating more government spending on anti-poverty programs? King's ultimate legacy is much more about his relations to God and to all loved by God than about his place in American history. Hence, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preferred being identified as a Baptist preacher over being identified with the civil rights movement or anti-war and anti-poverty programs.Here in the U.S., we usually prefer to remember King as a civil rights leader, probably because focusing on domestic civil rights turns attention away from more challenging concerns advanced by King, including relations to God, abolishing economic poverty (domestically and globally), and abolishing militarism and war.Outside the U.S., people usually remember more than what King did in civil rights. They also remember King's human rights prescriptions for abolishing racism, poverty, militarism, and war, including what he said about war in Vietnam.And regardless of emphasis, added together, both essentials are inadequate to describe King's ultimate legacy.  Continue reading...

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