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This year, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 85-years-old. Since he embraced peace, practiced nonviolent resistance, and sought a loving society, for years the media has cast him as a sincere, avuncular, dreamy leader. This hardly comports with his essence or his fiercely tenacious battles—against war, racism and poverty—found in his writings, speeches, marches, and jail time.

King died because he was a radical thinker and activist whose movement challenged the powerful and made dangerous enemies. In 1964 when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called him "the most notorious liar in the country." When he denounced the Vietnam War in 1967 the liberal New York Times and Washington Post roundly condemned him for questioning this part of America’s anti-communist crusade.

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Growing up, I never had a good sense of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. In elementary school, I thought of him as a secular saint, a monument in history who dreamed of people of all colors holding hands around a globe.

Indeed, the "I have a dream" soundbite is the most common version of Dr. King taught in school and pushed through media coverage leading up to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. Although my after school program at the Boys Club on Manhattan's Lower East Side had a viewing of the documentary Eyes on the Prize, which made Dr. King a more real person, he still felt distant, as if the events in his life were more scripted than lived. Because such a caricature puts perfection in front of process, the Dr. King "sainthood" message puts the work for social justice at a disadvantage.

Only in college did Dr. King's life become real to me. His part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, his leadership for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his sacrifices and arrests when forcing himself into segregated places, and his fiery oratory when speaking out against poverty, war, and racial justice are large parts of his astounding and well-celebrated legacy. I also learned about the rarely-taught, less luminous aspects of his history.

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There's So Much More to MLK Than 'I Have a Dream'

There's more to Martin Luther King and his ideas than one very famous speech.


Back in 2001, I was trying to get my eleventh grade U.S. history class to focus on a passage from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Unfortunately, I was not surprised when a student protested, "We already know about him. We're tired of hearing about Martin Luther King."

So I asked, "Okay, what do you know about him?"

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In Honor of Dr. King: Let's Solve the Worst Crisis Facing Black Children Since Slavery

Eighty-five percent of black fourth graders can't read at grade level. In honor of Dr. King, step up and be a part of the solution.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCrYpwJJzQE

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, D.C., 48 years ago, in part to end racial segregation in schools. Sadly, despite today's holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, a less overt but still pernicious form of school segregation—the achievement gap—continues unchecked.

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