What would Dr. King make of America today?
On April 4, 2018, The Times published an interactive look at that question. Headlined “Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later, His Battles Live On,” here is how it begins:
Martin Luther King Jr. remains frozen in time for many Americans. Seared into our consciousness is the man who battled Southern segregation.
We see him standing before hundreds of thousands of followers in the nation’s capital in 1963, proclaiming his dream for racial harmony. We see him marching, arms locked with fellow protesters, through the battleground of Alabama in 1965.
But on the 50th anniversary of his death, it is worth noting how his message and his priorities had evolved by the time he was shot on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Dr. King was confronting many challenges that remain with us today.
He was battling racism in the North then, not just in the South. He was pushing the government to address poverty, income inequality, structural racism and segregation in cities like Boston and Chicago. He was also calling for an end to a war that was draining the national treasury of funds needed to finance a progressive domestic agenda.
This may not be the Dr. King that many remember. Yet, his words resonate powerfully — and, perhaps, uncomfortably — today in a country that remains deeply divided on issues of race and class.
How do your students see his words resonating in their own lives and communities — and in our nation and around the world? Invite them to click through this rich collection, which links to both new and archival pieces, as they attempt to answer the question we pose above: What would Dr. King make of America today?
As they work, students might highlight quotes and ideas that pair especially well with other things they are reading, learning about, listening to or viewing. For instance, how do they speak to current works like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” or Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”? Why? As a culminating activity, a class might create a gallery of images and quotes that bridge Dr. King’s battles with those we are fighting today.