What Would Martin Luther King Say?

What Would Martin Luther King Say?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have had mixed feelings about all the fanfare and festivities surrounding the new monument in his honor.

Published October 16, 2011

By most accounts, the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was a moving, star-studded and solemn affair fit for a "king." But, given Dr. King's penchant for humility and reluctance about the spotlight, BET.com asked opinion leaders and experts from the civil rights community what they believe King would have made of all the fanfare.


Gary Flowers, president of the Black Leadership Forum, believes, if King were alive, he would have preferred a more low-key observance. "Dr. King said, 'When I die do not have a long funeral for me." As such, he would have preferred not to have pomp and circumstance around his memorial, but to have aggressive policy and conscience for all Americans," Flowers said.


At 30 feet tall, the solid granite monument is an imposing figure. And, while King is a giant in terms of his impact on the world, his personal temperament and demeanor made him a bit wary of taking the credit for the movement he helped to inspire. 


Clayborne Carson, director of Stanford University's Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, was a consultant for the monument's design team. He said, "King would be somewhat uncomfortable about having a monument dedicated to him. Something like that would have been hard for him to take in. He saw himself as more of a symbol of the movement. He always understood that he was someone who emerged out of a movement created by other people."


NAACP President Ben Jealous wonders if Dr. King could have conceived of a day like this. "King, like George Washington and Abe Lincoln, probably would not have even imagined that he'd have a monument dedicated to him. So he'd just want us to understand that this is a tribute to a spirit that shines through the slabs of rock and stone," he said.


As a close friend of Dr. King, civil rights icon Julian Bond can attest to his character. When asked what Dr. King would feel about this momentous occasion, Bond replied, "Dr. King said it best during his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church back in 1968. He said, 'Say I was a drum major for righteousness. And all the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.'"


Flowers believes the ceremony, highlighted by a formal dedication by the nation's first African-American president, would certainly have been appreciated by Dr. King. But, he said, "King would have seen it only as a gesture, not any more than that; not as a substitute for a focused public policy that would end militarism, racism, imperialism and cronyism. He'd want this to be a re-commitment to the beloved community he always spoke about."

(Photo: REUTERS/Molly Riley)

Written by Andre Showell


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