Professor breaks down truth and lies behind MLK Jr.’s legacy

Courtesy Photo /
Michael Eric Dyson, author, radio host, and Professor of sociology at Georgetown University

Courtesy Photo / Michael Eric Dyson, author, radio host, and Professor of sociology at Georgetown University

Marcus J. Reynolds

As the 2012 presidential elections quickly approach, Americans can expect a bombardment of nonstop campaign commercials. The scenario the U.S. faces as a society, it also faces in history: there is the truth, and there is the propaganda.

Grand Valley State University hosted Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, Wednesday night in the Louis Armstrong Theater. The venue filled to capacity as the speaker debunked the misinformation and romanticism American society has in regard to the historical legacy of King.

The program opened with the melodic sounds of the GVSU Unity Choir. Accompanied by a pianist, the group sang a song by contemporary artist John Legend, “If You’re Out There.”

With heartfelt lyrics such as, “We don’t want to have to wait for tomorrow. We can be the change today,” the song set the stage for Dyson. The audience showed its appreciation through enthusiastic applause.

The speaker opened in a humorous fashion, but quickly got serious about the propaganda, myths and misinformation, concerning King’s legacy. He spoke about the meaning of King and the continuation of his legacy in relationship to what King represented.

“The misinformation is that he wasn’t a radical, who was willing to put his life on the line for equality,” Dyson said. “He was willing to challenge America. He was very unpopular during his time.”

Dyson’s presentation brought out the point that King was not a conservative and he never pretended the obstacles preventing equality for all had been wiped away.

Dyson said politicians invoke King’s name in attempts to promote their own agenda, and many people in government do not speak to the oppositions of his dream.

With the current onslaught of massive unemployment, government and corporate corruption, and never-ending wars, Dyson emphasized the issues King embodied.

“In this post-racial era, the fallacy is – and some suggest that – Martin opposed Affirmative Action, or the redistribution of wealth, taking his words out of context,” Dyson said.

Dyson said disinformation is purposely misinforming the public to shape ideology. He added to move forward, the truth must be told.

“We don’t tell the truth about slavery and racism. We are romanticized by American history,” Dyson said. “For example, we want to take the word ‘nigger’ out of Mark Twains’ book, but the history is still there.”

He encouraged professors and teachers to keep the word in the texts and talk about the struggle for democracy.

“King wasn’t perfect. If we romanticize King, young people will believe they could never do what he did,” Dyson said. “Despite his imperfections, he rose above them, studied hard and was highly intelligent.”

He added romanticism impedes critical thinking. To associate King with the perfect icon allows us to associate him with President Obama as “King’s dream fulfilled.”

“King would question Obama. There would be tension because of his expansion in Afghanistan,” Dyson said. “We must remember King opposed the war in Vietnam.”

After King’s death, the question remains – what’s next?

GVSU senior Daniel Shaw attended the event to have the question answered.

“I wanted to get a better understanding of King,” Shaw said. “The lecture showed me that he strived for tolerance of all people around the world.”

As for the question of what comes next, Dyson has provided a response.

“If we listen to young people, we will hear a lot of what MLK spoke about,” he said.

The MLK committee coordinated a weeklong of activities to provide flexible scheduling and give people more event opportunities.

“We wanted to spread the love about King across campus, so we developed multiple programs on different days and times where people can connect with the man named Dr. King,” Springer said.

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