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Snippet of The People's Historians Podcast: Rethinking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Historian Jeanne Theoharis discusses the sanitization of Martin Luther King Jr. and his real legacy in history.
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So I think the story we get in textbooks right is we have King and the story we get. We get toe 1965 Voting Rights Act and then mysteriously weeks later we have the Watts riot, and King is surprised by this. And then we have black power and backlash, and that's the narrative that we get in standard textbooks. And so it seems King discovers the North after what's. But if we actually look at what Dr King is doing what he is talking about in those years before Watts, he is very clear that segregation and racism and systematic racism is a national problem, not just the Southern problem. Ian He is consistently calling out Northern liberals for being willing to support the movement in the South but not being willing to look at their own cities at their own practices. Andi, this really begins with the beginning of SCLC in 1957 with the beginning. King is not just talking about Southern Jim Crow. He's talking about Northern Jim Crow, and he's talking to directly to northern liberals and saying, You can't just call out or in 1960 I quote from him There is a pressing need for a liberalism in the north that is truly liberal, who will not only rise up in indignation when a Negro is lynched in Mississippi but will be equally incensed when a Negro is denied the right to live in his neighborhood or secure top position in his business. This is King in 1916 year, and and I think that almost never do we grapple with this king in school, in part because I think it calls out a kind of myth that has, I think, growing around the civil rights movement, which is that it was predominantly focused on a kind of Southern problem, and that was largely fixed. And it sort of becomes this kind of triumphal narrative struggle and Northern liberals come off is the good guy in that narrative and to really take seriously King saying over and over and over. We can't just talk about South. We have talked about the North, Um, and we have to remember. King is a minister, right? King is not a politician, he's not beholden to fundraising, and what you do is a minister is you call out your own. You call out your flock right? That's one of the responsibilities. And so in some sense, it's not surprising that over and over and over in spaces in the North, he's saying to Northern liberals, Look at your own house first.