Editorial | Politicians need to stop disrespecting MLK’s legacy


AP Photo

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Monday marked the 36th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day King’s family spent urging Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. Republicans and moderates such as Kyrsten Sinema, who still tweeted in honor of King, are holding back the bill. 

King wrote in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.” The members of Congress who have been blocking the Freedom to Vote Act, despite tweeting in celebration of King and his accomplishments, are disrespecting his legacy and ignoring how truly radical the man was. They are cherry-picking quotes, making him into a political prop, but not actually doing the work to support his legacy and uplift the many Black Americans who are still disenfranchised.

Year after year, politicians who support legislation that harms Black Americans tweet out King’s quotes taken out of context. After drafting and trying to pass a bill that restricts teaching critical race theory, the House Republicans’ Twitter account posted in honor of King. The hypocrisy of these politicians is astounding. They pick and choose what they believe to be low-effort, non-controversial ways to “uphold the legacy” of King, but when it comes to actual work — such as passing bills to help Black Americans or teaching others about how entrenched racism is in our country — they step back and refuse to help.

King was a radical and deeply hated in his time for attempting to change America’s racial status quo. Many politicians’ revisionist histories take away the more radical parts of him and replace them with watered-down quotes, and they are keeping in place the systemic racism he and many others spent fighting their whole lives against. It’s a slap in the face for Sinema to tweet a picture with John Lewis, an avid fighter for voting and civil rights who marched alongside King, and then years later block the bill he spent his life fighting for.

A tweet is not going to change the country’s systemic racism. It is not going to help the astounding rate of one in 15 Black men who are incarcerated, or the thousands who have lost their lives due to police brutality. A tweet is a cheap acknowledgment of King and ultimately a complete disrespect to everything he fought for in his life.

King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” more than 60 years ago, yet it is still relevant today. Moderate politicians need to use their privilege to help pass the Freedom to Vote Act and bills like it, or they will remain the “great stumbling block” that King talked about more than half a century ago.