This excerpt is from a piece that originally ran on April 4, 2023.
Today marks 55 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist in Memphis, a reminder that the civil rights champion was not as universally revered then as he ostensibly is now. When the Supreme Court likely puts an end to affirmative action in a few months, many in the conservative movement will trumpet King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, not only justifying but also enjoining us to bring an end to racial justice efforts.
But the court won’t just stop with affirmative action. Their crusade will carry on toward eliminating “race-conscious” policies in employment, supply chains, and even corporate board composition — undoing decades of progress in American life. If he were alive today, the truth is that King would be fighting to the bitter end to protect affirmative action, and those same conservatives would be attacking him as radical and “woke.”
King made no secret of his belief that work had to be done to bring people together and create true and equal inclusion. “Desegregation alone is empty and shallow,” he said in a different speech the year before his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. “We must always be aware of the fact that the ultimate goal is integration and that desegregation is only a first step on the road to a good society.” It cannot be enough to merely end legal discrimination. “Integration is the positive acceptance of desegregated and the welcomed participation of Negroes into the total range of human activities,” he explained.
Today, we would call King’s project the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.