A MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY ESSAY, from Jeff Goldstein.
Meanwhile, it occurs to me that King has been turned into a wooden saint — a la George Washington — rather than the complex, flawed, and heroic human being that he actually was. It also seems to me that today’s students — this is certainly true of my law students, both black and white — no longer really grasp the reality of the pre-Civil Rights era. That’s a good thing overall, of course. But in teaching about this stuff, I’ve favored excerpts from the excellent, though lengthy Eyes on the Prize documentary, and I’ve also used the excellent (and rather accurate for such things) Brown v. Board of Education docudrama, Separate But Equal, in which Sidney Poitier plays Thurgood Marshall. (Charles Black is played by an actor who, as Black said to me once, bears an unfortunately close resemblance, something that can’t be said for Poitier and Marshall. . . . I think that Black was a bit jealous of that.) It’s a docudrama, so they take some liberties, but they’re comparatively minor — the plot is based on Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice — and the legal discussion is actually rather good. But more importantly the film makes clear that Brown was far from preordained, that there was a lot of disagreement in the black community and the civil rights community about how to proceed.
I think it’s good that the pre-Civil Rights era has receded in our collective memory, but I also think it’s important that we retain some sense of just how different things were then.
UPDATE: Video of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
ANOTHER UPDATE: More on King here.