When you think about Martin Luther King, he was a person who was a fighter and a true leader. Every year, article after article comes out about MLK. Most talk about his life, his fight, and his impact. My favorite articles and accounts to read are the ones from the people who fought alongside him, were with him every day, and knew the man Martin Luther King, not the public figure. It is more enjoyable to me to read and hear about who he was as a person than solely about what he did. Those personal accounts are the ones that paint the picture of who he was when the microphones and cameras turned off.
Even though MLK was demonized by the government, many (white owned) media outlets, and so many others while he was alive, a lot of people have this picture-perfect image of him in their heads since he died. That tends to happen with people whenever they die. We have all done it with celebrities, popular public figures, family members, friends, and our favorite actor or singer. When they pass on, sometimes we choose to overlook the bad aspects of these people and the good ones are the only thing embedded in our brains. There’s a psychology behind it. Look it up and go down that rabbit hole when you get a chance. Anyways, MLK was young, good looking, had a way with words, and was in the public eye for a lot of his life. But Martin was a flawed individual. He had a weakness for women, and it is common knowledge that he had affairs on his wife, Coretta Scott King (Thank the FBI for that one). In his personal life, he was cold at times and known to be emotionally unavailable. Additionally, he admitted to plagiarizing portions of his speeches and works. Scandalous? Surprising? Sure, especially for a preacher, married man, and a man of the people. But all these flaws humanize King. They showed that he had personal demons like everyone else. They give us some insight into his personal imperfections. Most importantly, these flaws show that you could be human and far from perfect but still achieve greatness.
The FBI letter that was sent to Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King
The threats, arrests, constant FBI, CIA, and law enforcement surveillance, along with his flaws did not stop MLK from changing the course of history for the better. These factors and flaws did not stop him from doing great things. They did not stop the progress. And they do not diminish the impact of the man. People forget that he was only 39 years old when he was assassinated. He was young. Being young is not an excuse for his actions or flaws but could be a factor in some of his actions and decisions. Most people can live twice as long and not achieve half of what he did. His intelligence was unmatched. He was wise beyond his years. He was a voice for the people. Leaders of anything (movements, countries, corporations) are always held to a higher standard in the court of public opinion. They are expected to be damn near perfect. But nobody is perfect. MLK sure wasn’t. The expectation that he or any other leader should be is not realistic. He had flaws, was building the movement as he went, and was under immense pressure from many sides, right? Well, the fact that he did not let his own demons destroy him or hinder his vision made me respect the man even more. The most significant changes in human history have been driven by imperfect people. He had the intelligence, self-confidence, & determination that any leader needs. Along with those qualities, people need to see the flaws in their leaders. They need to see that it is okay to have flaws and that you can have flaws but still do great things. Flaws are something that we all must accept about ourselves. Accepting them means recognizing and understanding them. It also means committing to working on them.
Note: There are activists that did not have the name recognition but pushed for the same goals and had their hands deep in shaping what the Civil Rights movement became. Celebrating someone like Martin Luther King means celebrating lesser-known names like his mentor Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Curtis Graves, Claudette Colvin, Charles Hamilton Houston, Dion Diamond, Jo Ann Robinson, and so many more. Their contributions to the Civil Rights movement are often overlooked and underappreciated. Look them up sometime.