The lessons I wasn’t taught: MLK Jr.

I heard somewhere before, maybe from a guest speaker at a conference or maybe a colleague of mine…. wait…. nope. It came from a rerun episode of the Blacklist (don’t judge me) either way the quote goes “You can’t judge a book by its cover. Although you can certainly base it off of the first few chapters and definitely by the last.”

See? Who said good quotes can’t come from fictional television shows? LOL!


On January 6th, CREAD hosted its third Woke Cypha Curriculum Development session with the focus on formative assessments; something you all know because you read Khalilah’s last piece Ok baby now let’s get in formation. For this session, we read The Three Evils of Society by Martin Luther King Jr., a speech that I and many of the participants in the room had never heard before. I’ve even linked the transcript so you can go ahead and read it at your convenience because this is some real talk.

By the time of this speech in 1967, MLK Jr. is fed the fuck up with White supremacy and White people. He opens up by throwing shade at the potential Klan presence, joking about them causing interference on the PA system and then he gets right to the business of speaking to the hearts of our people.

“For most of us this is a new mood. We are traditionally the idealists. We are the marchers from Mississippi and Selma and Washington, who staked our lives on the American Dream during the first half of this decade. We were the hardcore activists who were willing to believe that Southerners could be reconstructed in the constitutional image……Our hopes have been blasted and our dreams have been shattered……What happens to a dream deferred? It leads to bewildering frustration and corroding bitterness.”

He then explains about how he has been booed and met with disapproval and discontent while speaking in Chicago one evening, surprisingly by young Black men; a first for Dr. King as he goes on to admit. It’s one thing to be booed by Wypipo but to be booed by Black folks while championing a cause for our race, I’m sure is something that could disturb even the most peaceful of men. He goes on to state:

“They were now booing me because they felt that we were unable to deliver on our promises. They were booing because we had urged them to have faith in people who had too often proved to be unfaithful. They were now hostile because they were watching the dream that they had so readily accepted, turn into a frustrating nightmare.”

Y’all hear this?

Hearing King be so honest was inspiring.

I often have days where I believe many of my generation question the older vanguard of Black leadership, as they often question us. I often feel as though they have led us astray, and that they do not speak to the contemporary issues of the struggle in a language that affirms and empowers my generation.


For your ease, I have made a 106 & Park top ten countdown of the most relevant and powerful quotes from this speech that address issues of capitalism, White supremacy, and human rights that impacted me:

10. “So let us stand in this convention knowing that on some positions; cowardice asks the questions, is it safe; expediency asks the question, is it politic; vanity asks the question, is it popular, but conscious asks the question, is it right.  And on some positions, it is necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular; but he must do it because it is right.”

9. “Somewhere we must see that justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and I have fought too long and too hard against segregated public accommodations to end up at this point in my life, segregating my moral concerns.”

8. “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A Civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy.”

7. “We must further recognize that the ghetto is a domestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into the hands of residence of the ghetto so that they may in reality control their own destinies.”

6. “We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

5. “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”

4. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

3. “It is this moral lag in our thing oriented society that blinds us to the human realities of the world around us.”

2. “When we foolishly maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum, we sign the warrant for our own day of doom.”

1. “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.”


I had never been taught this King during my formative years.  And I’m mad. I’m actually pissed the hell off.

The only version of King that I’ve ever been taught is the I have a dream King, who was passive and echoed sentiments of hope and dreams of White America seeing the folly of their ways. The only King, I’ve ever been taught is the King of the Selma to Montgomery March who preached non violence and collaboration even in the face of violence and hatred from those we would hope to collaborate with.

All week I’ve been engulfed in his iconography and his teachings, in his likeness and his speeches. In every space I’ve gone I’ve been waiting to see the King in the last years of his life somewhere on display. The man who grew in his thinking and his understanding of human rights and the evils of White supremacy and capitalism. But that King seemingly doesn’t fit into this narrative we’ve all been fed.

As we approach Black History Month I’m wondering how do we all ensure that we are engaging with all of history? What stories are we sharing in our classroom? And how are we ensuring we share varying perspectives and representing the evolution of people’s lives, ideology and actions.

If we don’t know our history we are bound to repeat it! If we don’t start teaching a more detailed view of history that highlights the humanity and complex history of our heroes, we will be left with unapproachable superficial, idealistic icons that we can’t connect to. If we only engage with hand selected pieces of an individual’s life, the parts that are safe to teach, we are handicapping our young people by delivering only half truths.

In the case of Martin Luther King Jr. we have only been fed parts of his story and it has been deliberate. We have only had the light shone on the first few chapters of his life, a narrative which reads of passivity, spirituality and a commitment to nonviolence that White supremacy feeds off of. But make way to those last chapters of his life and low and behold we find a man who has evolved. A man who is a bit more mature in his ideology, a bit more steadfast in his faith and more committed to the dismantling of White supremacist structures and ideals; specifically racism, militarism and capitalism (poverty).

Isn’t it ironic how knowledge is power but information is key?

Love and light good people. Hold it down!


One comment

  1. I humbly thank you for this contribution. I am a bit more enlightened because of this. I am in awe. Thank you Thank you

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