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Martin Luther King, Jr.: How would American life be different without him?


The following ran in the Jan. 14, 2012, edition of the Christian Science Monitor. Dennis Simon, political scientist, provided expertise for this story.

January 19, 2012

By Daniel B. Wood

Institutional racism in the United States has declined greatly thanks to the work of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet 'we have not reached the promised land MLK talked about,' says one scholar, nor has the economic equality King sought for all races been achieved.

Awaiting a panel discussion titled, “What if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had Tweeted the Civil Rights Movement,” Franklin Henderson sits in the darkened Steve Allen Theater, talking about the life he didn’t have to lead because of King.

“We didn’t have a poll tax in Miami, Florida where I grew up or a lot of the other hurdles blacks had,” says the retired, Past National President of the Ninth & Tenth (Horse) Calvary Association. “He brought civil rights in America a very long way.”

“But not far enough,” says his wife, Doris. “There is still a long way to go.”

The two comments echo the discussion today among scholars, activists, and African American community leaders in cities across America. A brief newsreel of civil rights marches, the fire hosing of blacks in the streets, and the discriminatory practices of the South sets the backdrop for the evening’s discussion of how today’s social media – as harnessed by several countries during the Arab Spring – would have eased the ability of King to organize his marches and boycotts.

But would it have lengthened his legacy?...

“There is appreciation of his religious thought and his political philosophy of non-violence, but often overlooked is his management skills,” says Dennis Simon, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

Professor Simon says King’s first post of importance was a diverse contingent of groups that included ministers, labor leaders, and a woman’s council, called the Montgomery Improvement Association.

“This is where he went into the trenches and learned how to deal with people, how to deliberate and come to decisions, how to develop political strategy, and how to frame it in a viable narrative for the media,” says Simon. “We are all the beneficiaries of what King learned in this crucible.”