Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. King, a social justice leader and head of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, left behind an important legacy for this country and brought about significant racial progress for African-Americans. While he mainly fought for change and equality in the South, he also spent some time in Boston, earning a master’s degree in the School of Theology at Boston University — where he met fellow student and future wife Coretta Scott.
Boston officials gathered at the Massachusetts State House Wednesday morning to honor King’s accomplishments during his lifetime. Gov. Charlie Baker, along with several black and Latino legislators, spoke at the event, praising his contributions and reflecting upon his life and the time he spent in the Boston community. At the ceremony, which included a moment of silence in memory of King’s life, politicians seemed to come to a similar census: that MLK’s message for equality still rings true for us today.
Martin Luther King Jr. is considered a mascot for the city of Boston. But given its reputation as a racist city, this message contradicts the reality of racial tensions and incidents that often occur here. While we like to attribute King’s legacy to Boston, this city in particular still has a ways to go before it looks remotely like the dream of equality and unity MLK had in mind.
Minority communities still suffer from racial disparities here and across the country. Boston neighborhoods are notorious for being pockets for specific minority communities, segregated into black and Hispanic neighborhoods. While the prevalence of minorities here is a testament to how different races and ethnicities are welcomed in Boston, this separation contradicts the idea of unity and plurality espoused by King. He wished to see a world where black and white people lived together and worked side by side. King sought to see an end to the systematic racism enforced by white policemen, often violent in their ways. While there is no longer any official segregation in this country, since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, we still have to dismantle the invisible boundaries set between white people and people of color in this country.
It’s important to remember King not only for the progress he made in America in the civil rights movement, but also for the various other movements his death inspired. After King’s assassination, civil rights leaders did not want his death be in vain, so these leaders, and generations after them, continued to fight and practice the same nonviolent strategies King practiced and believed in.
Time and time again, King’s methods have proven to be the most effective in influencing radical change in this country. The protests that occurred in Charlottesville last summer resulted in one person dying and more than a dozen injured. The “Unite the Right” rally served as a reminder of the violence that can ensue when opposing sides butt heads, and perhaps we can look at the 50th anniversary of someone who was able to inspire real progress in this country for guidance on these matters. It can remind us that inciting violence and harming others is not necessary if we want peace and unity — and this extends to both sides. We can only find solutions if we come together, hear each other’s ideas and respond with respect. This is an especially important message to keep in mind as more rallies are being organized and executed each week.
In addition, MLK was meticulous and careful when planning his campaigns. He organized the march in Selma, gathered students to walk out of schools and made allies with the press and leaders in Washington. He made sure these efforts resembled a unified front. On the other hand, we can’t point to one single person that’s heading movements like Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and in part due to the presence of social media in our lives, there’s something to be said about the power of a single person leading an entire movement. Sometimes the message can get lost in translation with several people holding the torch, but this also has the potential to be powerful as well. We just need to come together to think about the messages certain groups are delivering and ensure they’re aligned with what laws we want to see passed.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of unity is more important now than ever before. With political and racial factions dividing the country and even coming between families, King’s anniversary is a reminder that we need to bring people together, not set them apart.