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'Every Generation Must Reappropriate the Lessons of the Past': Protesters Reclaim MLK Day In Rallies Across US

MLK day took on renowned significance this year, in the midst of what has become the largest movement for racial justice in American since King’s days.
Image via AP

Hundreds of activists across the United States took to the streets on Monday to "reclaim" Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by paying tribute to the civil rights icon not just through remembrance, but via one of the pillars of his legacy: direct protest.

The annual federal holiday has taken on renowned significance this year in the midst of what has become the largest movement for racial justice in America since King's lifetime.


Countrywide rallies against police brutality, impunity, and racism have been consistent across the US in 2014, following a number of high profile cases of killings of black men at the hands of the police. The national movement has brought questions of race and policing in America to the forefront of the national's consciousness.

Against that backdrop, protesters have called on the public to remember King for his more radical work and message — and warned against "whitewashing" the civil right leader's contributions.

Dr King on how non violence protests should adapt. Sound familiar to what we do now?— zellie (@zellieimani)January 19, 2015

"Dr. King was part of a larger movement of women, and men, queer, and straight, young and old," the Ferguson Action group, which was born on the heels of the Missouri protests that launched this summer, posted to its website. "This movement was built on a bold vision that was radical, principled, and uncompromising. The freedom fighters who believed in this vision were called impractical, rash, irrational, and naive. Their tactics were controversial. Some elders distanced themselves from what was then a new movement for change. Some of the older generation joined in.

"Our movement draws a direct line from the legacy of Dr. King," the group continued. "We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless women and men into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits. From here on, MLK weekend will be known as a time of national resistance to injustice."


Images via Instagram

"Today is about reclaiming what MLK Day means," Charlene Carruthers, national coordinator of the Black Youth Project 100, told the Washington Post. "His work and his image has been sanitized by people who are interested in maintaining the current system of oppression."

MLK died launching a poor people's campaign. Why not continue in his honor. — Miss Packnett (@MsPackyetti)January 19, 2015

Projected on the garage of Oakland's mayor. We — BrownBlaze (@brownblaze)January 19, 2015

From New York to St. Louis to Oakland, protesters aimed to turn a day of memory into one of action that included the street demonstrations and disruption that were an essential component of King's struggle.

In New York, dozens of civil rights and racial justice groups rallied from Harlem to the United Nations, while others gathered downtown in Union Square. Some demonstrators used the day to demand and end to the city's "broken windows" policing tactics, as well as the appointment of special prosecutors to investigate cases of police violence, and the firing of police officers involved in the choking death of Eric Garner this past summer.

— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC)January 19, 2015

Video via Instagram

"The failure to find justice in cases of police brutality against black and brown people, including Ramarley Graham, Chantel Davis, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and many more like them, makes this the civil rights struggle of our time," the Justice League NYC said in an email to supporters.


Images via Instagram

Many have compared the protests against police brutality that followed this summer's killing of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and quickly spread nationwide to the civil rights movement King's name is synonymous with. Activists paid tribute to that movement's legacy — while also claiming their prerogative to carry on that struggle differently.

"As Tef Poe and others say regularly, this civil rights movement is not your mom and dad's civil rights movement," California-based pastor Rev. Mike McBride told VICE News, referring to one of the unofficial "leaders" of the Ferguson protests. McBride is a member of PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations that have been working in Ferguson since August.

"Every generation must reappropriate the lessons of the past, the experience of their elders," he added. "They must then make it relevant for the time in which we live."

Ferguson and the violence of sanitizing the struggle for civil rights. Read more here.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi