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Why the ACLU Believes MLK’s Message is More Important Than Ever

One key lesson from Dr. King — we cannot be satisfied with surface victories

While Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a national holiday since 1983, Dr. King's mission resonates especially deeper this year with Trump's selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and the election of Trump himself. Just last week, it was revealed civil rights leader Coretta Scott King wrote a letter urging Congress to block Jeff Sessions from becoming a federal judge in 1986. A Senate judiciary hearing eventually blocked Sessions from becoming a federal judge citing his many instances of anti-black statements including telling someone to "be careful what you say to white folks."


Some of the biggest resisters of a Trump presidency have been members of the ACLU. Following Trump's win, the organization saw a seven thousand percent increase in donations raising 23 million dollars in just one month. Recent campaigns by the organization also emphasize their dedication to challenging Trump and protecting the rights of marginalized groups.

Read More: The Bizarre Reason You Rarely Hear Martin Luther King Quotes in Movies

Jeffrey Robinson, the deputy legal director of the ACLU was in Memphis and was 11 years old when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. He believes the first step to honoring his message is to not pick and choose which parts of his message we want to follow.

"I also think that people now have this cookie cutter version that people bring out on Martin Luther King day where they say 'I have a dream' that makes them feel good," he told Broadly.

According to Robinson, one major example was the backlash athletes faced for kneeling during the national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick. "Dr. King would have loved athletes who are privileged—who have financial security and status—he would have loved them kneeling down," Robinson said.

Though Robinson was a child when Dr. King was assassinated, he vividly remembers how he was perceived at the time — and how the public perception of black activists hasn't changed much over the years. "Dr. King was reviled in the United States. He was labeled by J. Edgar Hoover as the most dangerous man in America in terms of national security." To Robinson, this is nearly the exact same language used to describe groups like Black Lives Matter. "People who are pushing for justice and pushing at the boundaries are going to make others uncomfortable and when that happens, you get pushback."

When it comes to community building and resistance, one thing Robinson believes we shouldn't forget is that Dr. King was a young leader—only twenty five years old when leading a church in Montgomery, Alabama. "When people are telling you, 'you're moving too fast' or that Black Lives Matter are just a bunch of kids, [Dr. King] had no idea what he was doing. He was making it up as he went along."

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Most importantly, Robinson believes the key is to not be satisfied with small victories. "It didn't cost anybody to give us the right to sit down at lunch counters. In fact, it improved the economy." To Robinson, Dr. King showed the surface victories weren't the ultimate goal.

Remembering Dr. King's death, Robinson remembers how he felt as a child. "I was terrified, I thought the world was going to end. I haven't been that afraid until Nov. 8 when Trump was elected."