My first memories of Dr. King are as a high school student with the
bus boycott, where everybody young and old walked for more than a
year. After that, I passed his home twice a day as I walked three
miles from home to Alabama State University for two years. How was I
to know that 10 years later he would become a household name around
It seems that every special interest group uses his
words to fit their own cause. Liberal or conservative, black or
white, invoking Dr. King's name seems to be a tactic used by
individuals and groups to convince people that Dr. King would
support their cause if he were still alive today.
Even within the King family there is disagreement about whose
side Dr. King would have taken, on the gay rights issue for example.
According to a recent story in the Financial Times, one member of
the family said he would have marched for gay rights. But a daughter
marching with another minister in Atlanta said he would not have.
When many of us think of Dr. King, we focus on his 1963 "I Have A
Dream" speech, as though the words in that speech reflect the only
dream he had. King was a spiritual leader who had many beliefs. He
expressed some of them in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" and
in "Where Do We Go From Here." He expressed his views on education
when he said: "The discrimination of the future will not be based on
race but on education. Those without education will find no place in
our highly sophisticated, technical society."
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Unfortunately, in this rush to fight for our own causes and
invoke the power of Dr. King, the man's own agenda too often gets
tossed aside. A closer look at his life and legacy tell us he had so
much more to say than just dreaming. Dreaming doesn't call for
leadership, and without a doubt he was a leader.
At the age of 26, King received a Ph.D. in systematic theology
from Boston University. To fight for your dreams, you must be
equipped to do battle. Before the dream can come true, quality
education must be offered to every American child -- regardless of
Today, virtually every group in America that could possibly be
discriminated against has fought to become a protected class and
complains about injustice. But Dr. King wasn't a complainer. He was
a leader who realized that to get to an end, we must first make a
commitment to the means. King, in the end, was about "racial
freedom, economic justice and Christian love."
Lee H. Walker is the president of one of the nation's leading
black public policy think tanks,
The New Coalition for Economic
Social Change. He is also a member of the editorial board at The
Chicago Defender, the nation's only daily black newspaper.