Thought Bubble | MLK Jr. legacy more complicated than we were taught in grade school

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day, which is great because we didn’t have school, but it’s also great because we got to commemorate a great man. 

King’s legacy, and the true meaning of the holiday, is oftentimes overlooked by students at Wabaunsee, possibly due to our general lack of diversity, which is truly a shame. 

Wabaunsee, like most schools in the area, observes the holiday, and several teachers include King’s works in their curriculum, but general knowledge of King’s legacy is still often insufficient.

I began researching a story about Martin Luther King Jr. to raise some more awareness of his impact, but what I unearthed shook me to my core. Allow me to elaborate.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights activist back in the 1950s and ‘60s. He led several peaceful protests up until his assassination in April 1968. King was an extremely influential man who inspired African American people across the nation who were suffering from oppression and segregation. This is all commonly taught information.

What isn’t as commonly known is how much the FBI feared and hated King. The FBI director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, saw King as a radicalist and was concerned about the influence he had over the population. It was revealed that the FBI was responsible for sending an anonymous letter to King implying that he must commit suicide or there would be blackmail released regarding his sexual history. 

This letter is only one of the many suspicious, off the record, and straight up illegal actions taken by the FBI as part of their COINTELPRO initiative. COINTELPRO was a “counter intelligence program” aimed at “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order” as stated in a Senate report.

It was revealed that COINTELPRO was responsible for several accounts of harassment, false information, wrongful imprisonment and assassinations. A break-in by a group called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI found records incriminating several high-up figures in the FBI which resulted in the disbandment of the program.

There were two things I realized while taking this dive into history. The first being you can’t trust the government at all. Assassinations, unlawful arrests, blackmail, the list goes on and our government has done it all. They will go to any end in the name of “peace.” Any bad thing done for a good reason is still a bad thing.

The second and more profound thing I realized was that some historical figures have a more complicated legacy than we might realize. Martin Luther King Jr. was obviously an important man but he was still human. He had people who loved him, hated him, and anywhere in between. King was, is, and always will be integral to our history, but we can’t truly appreciate what he did for us without realizing why he had to do it.

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