Today I am thinking about Dr. King and the inevitable spate of essays scolding us not to make him into a plaster saint. These essays are fine as far as they contain a fundamental message that the dream can’t die by becoming cant or rote.
But these essays strike me as being very cynical in a way, too. People need individuals to admire and look up to. Treating him like a hero doesn’t mean you that you don’t understand how unbelievably hard his work was, or that his work is unfinished, or that he wasn’t necessarily a faithful husband, or a million other factors of the messy, wounded, fucked-up reality that governs all of us. It just means you recognize the many, many transcendent things about King; his magnificent writing, his magisterial capacity for political speech, his commitment to justice, his ability to point relentlessly to America’s failings and to the ways it can and must remedy, and his willingness to go forward knowing full well his own personal destruction was likely. Those are not small things; they are not everyday things. And those things are worth honoring.