Beyond "I Have A Dream": Required Reading For MLK Day


Whether or not you’re working today (we are!), here are some of the best readings and photos we’ve found to commemorate this day and the broader civil rights movement — as well as its contemporary relevance and ongoing work.

  • Here’s a speech King wrote in 1966, which his wife Coretta Scott King delivered, on the occasion of receiving an award from Planned Parenthood. “There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary,” he wrote. “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts…For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life.”
  • From 1961-1966, King wrote annual essays for The Nation about the state of the Civil Rights movement, which they’ve now put online. The 1966 essay responds to a general sentiment that the movement had plateaued. “Slums with hundreds of thousands of living units are not eradicated as easily as lunch counters or buses are integrated. Jobs are harder to create than voting rolls,” he wrote. “Harmonizing of peoples of vastly different cultural levels is complicated and frequently abrasive.”
  • King’s 1966 observation has plenty of relevance today. Dana Goldstein notes in her MLK Day essay on education and segregation that “American schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, 43 years ago.” Meanwhile, in Wake County, North Carolina, the Tea Party-controlled school board is dismantling a desegregation program.
  • And writer and historian (Nixonland) Rick Perlstein says in a podcast that if conservatives are getting into MLK’s legacy (after many, including John McCain, voted against even observing his birthday), it’s “an attempt to domesticate King and omit from the memory views that challenged power and privilege and scared the establishment, conservatives and liberals alike.”

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, by Danielle McGuire, is an essential history of the Civil Rights movement from a point of view that’s often been ignored: That of the women who worked alongside King, often motivated at first by defending black women’s bodily integrity. Here’s a more recent podcast where McGuire talks about the anti-sexual violence roots of civil rights pioneers.

  • And, just for fun, your MLK Day playlist, courtesy of The Root. Yes, thank you, I will listen to some Sam Cooke. Also, Life has a never-before-seen gallery of King on the Freedom Rides.
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