Remembering The Real Legacy of MLK

On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, students, faculty, and staff of the University  of Virginia, along with supporters from the wider Charlottesville community, gathered on the steps of the Rotunda to rally for what event organizers termed “the real legacy of Martin Luther King”: the ongoing struggle for economic justice. The event was organized by the Progressive Action Network (PAN).

Carl David Goette-Luciak of the Living Wage campaign summed up the purpose of the rally as follows: “When we celebrate King today, we celebrate a fraction of the man he was. We’ve picked and chosen and found a Dr. King who is uncontroversial. But the real Martin Luther King was controversial, and his ideas still are. It’s easy to talk about Jim Crow, an injustice overcome over forty years ago. But it’s hard to talk about economic injustice, a wrong we have yet to right.”

Dr. Claudrena Harold, professor of History, reminded the crowd that economic justice was not an afterthought for Dr. King; rather, it was integral to his life and philosophy. She called on those present to thoughtfully read the works of King and to engage in self-critique about how his legacy is constructed. She quoted from the poem “Now That He Is Safely Dead” by Carl Wendell Hines: “Dead men make such convenient heroes. They cannot rise to challenge the images we would fashion from their lives. And besides, it is easier to build monuments than to make a better world.” Those who overlook King’s struggle for economic equality, Harold warned, are “committing ideological violence on King.”

Mr. M. Rick Turner, president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle branch of the NAACP, linked the principles of Dr. King’s work to the ongoing Living Wage campaign at the University of Virginia: “The policies and practices of the university are not fixed; they are made by ordinary people. If they are made by people, they can be changed by people.” The crowd responded with cheers and shouts of “What do we want? A Living Wage! When do we want it? Now!”

At one point, two African-American women wearing the uniforms of U.Va. food service workers walked by the rally on their way to the trolley. Seeing the Living Wage banners, they clapped and shouted “Thank you! We appreciate you!” Rally participants clapped and cheered in response: “We appreciate you! Thank you for your work!”

The employees of the University of Virginia deserve more than thanks for their work. They deserve a living wage. And they deserve it now.

written by Wager, Dannah Dennis

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