© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Reflecting On The Legacy Of The Civil Rights Movement


By now, you've surely heard the comments President Trump is reported to have made during a meeting with lawmakers last week that have been condemned as racist. Now, this all came as the nation prepares to remember the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. So we decided to seek some reflections about the civil rights movement in the U.S. and what the legacy of that movement might mean to the current moment.

For that, we turn to two people who worked closely with Dr. King - Andrew Young Jr. and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. We'll start with Mr. Young, a friend and confidant of Martin Luther King, a prominent civil rights activist in his own right. He's also a minister, a former member of Congress, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a former mayor of Atlanta. Ambassador Young talked about how this current wave of political and racial tension is both familiar and different.

ANDREW YOUNG JR.: I think that this time is far more complex. We were dealing with legal racism. And the NAACP had done 25 years at least of legal precedent. So the issues that we were dealing with marching about in Selma and Birmingham were pretty well-defined. And there was a liberal, national consensus about what was right that Martin Luther King expressed brilliantly in '63 in his "I Have A Dream" speech - a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that, one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident - that all men are created equal.


YOUNG JR.: You know, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will sit down at the table of brotherhood. That was something that everybody could understand and agree to. It became far more complicated when we got into war. Because when Martin formed the SCLC, he formed it to redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war and poverty.

And he said, about Vietnam back then, that the bombs you drop in Vietnam will explode at home in inflation and unemployment. And he was absolutely right. And most of the problems we face, you know, we could have anticipated. And many people did anticipate it even 50 years ago.

MARTIN: We also spoke with another longtime civil rights activist and confidant of Dr. King - the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He says he is hopeful that the current social divisions that are so evident will actually have the effect of creating a stronger social justice movement.

JESSE JACKSON: The optimism is that we - the people are waking up. The optimism is the fact that those with the Selma 1965 - and blacks didn't have the right to vote for 85 years. White women couldn't serve on juries. That whole Selma generation gives me hope. They took us from the bloody bridge in Selma to the White House in 2008.

There is hope in the emerging amount of Americans with a greater sense of global consciousness and the right to vote. And if you exercise that power, we can protect that their interests - what obviously makes America great is the right to fight for the right. Sometimes the difficult battles - we can fight these battles and win.

MARTIN: That was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, former Democratic presidential candidate, longtime civil rights leader. We reached him in Chicago on this eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Earlier, we spoke with Ambassador Andrew Young. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.