Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: A Legacy of Social Justice


"There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available…In our struggle for equality we were confronted with the reality that many millions of people were essentially ignorant of our conditions or refused to face unpleasant truths. The hard-core bigot was merely one of our adversaries. The millions who were blind to our plight had to be compelled to face the social evil their indifference permitted to flourish…We knew that there were solutions and that the majority of the nation were ready for them. Yet we also knew that the existence of solutions would not automatically operate to alter conditions. We had to organize, not only arguments, but people in the millions for action. Finally we had to be prepared to accept all the consequences involved in dramatizing our grievances in the unique style we had devised."

- MLK upon accepting the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Margaret Sanger Award. Read the entire speech.

In these remarks we see the legacy of the civil rights movement. A legacy that has so much to offer our quest for reproductive justice. If we understand this tradition, our highly charged political context is both easier to understand and more complicated. Easier, because we can see how various social justice issues are linked. We see that access to health care is a reproductive rights issue. We know a woman's ability to make her own choices depends on her economic and social conditions. We know that when any person aims to take control of their reproductive lives they are asserting a human right.

Yet our situation is more complicated, because a broad-based social justice movement requires that we not-only understand how various social justice issues tie together but pushes us to organize in order to strengthen connections, instead of creating identity-based divisions. We have to be vigilant against a political agenda that dresses up like morality and claims life itself as its very domain. We have to be critical of our own movements so that we don't reinforce oppressive politics. Instead, we must aim to unite agendas, bring each other to the table and ensure that all voices are heard. This, of course, is the hard part. But it is the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King's vision of justice included men, women, sanitation workers, and union members. He knew that if their concerns were met they would together create a broad-based movement that would endure. He spoke up in favor of women's rights and saw economic justice as an issue inextricably tied to world peace. He asserted that, "no individual nation can live alone, the world is a neighborhood'" and that, "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." So with this legacy, our charge is to push the limits and create new spaces in our agenda, ensure cross-participation and listen for voices yet unheard. Luckily, we have an example before us.

For more information about the life and legacy of Dr. King, visit The King Institute.

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