Martin Luther King, Jr., and the American Dream

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Professor Peter Myers argues that Martin Luther King, Jr. is rightly looked up to by nearly all Americans as a shining example of how to harmonize principle with civic action. Differences, however, in the interpretation of King’s legacy between people of goodwill emerge upon a closer examination of the connection between the principles King espoused and the specific actions and programs for which he advocated, which Myers argues stems from tensions within King’s own thought.

Professor Peter Myers explores the legacy of pastor and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. King’s legacy is revered today by nearly all Americans thanks in large part to his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and is widely considered to be one of the great speeches in American history.

Myers contends that despite this widespread, surface-level agreement, differences of opinion between Americans begin to appear when the specific programs, policies, and strategies to which King espoused are examined in greater detail.

After reviewing King’s life and the connection between his principles and programs, Myers argues that the differences in how King is remembered on the Right and Left today stems from a tension that was present in King’s own thinking.

Myers concludes his essay by arguing that Americans should not honor King by writing hagiographies. We can and should “subject his thinking to critical scrutiny without betraying the nation’s ideals or the noble cause for which he gave his life.” Doing so is in the deepest spirit of King’s dream, which was to ensure that people of all races and ethnicities could experience the full recognition of their equal rights.

Read the full essay here.