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Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Radical, Not a Saint

It is easy to forget that in his day King was considered a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media.

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In his final speech in Memphis the night before he was killed, King told the crowd about a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta that morning, saying he knew that his life was constantly in danger because of his political activism.

"I would like to live a long life," he said. "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land."

We haven't gotten there yet. But Dr. King is still with us in spirit. The best way to honor his memory is to continue the struggle for human dignity, workers' rights, racial equality, peace, and social justice.

 

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, was recently published by Nation Books.

 
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