Different Takes on the Legacy of M.L.K.

listen download episode

Host Majora Carter takes a fresh look at the reach of King's influence. Some of the most interesting voices in civil rights today weigh in and help us gauge how far we've come. Meet a minister who suggests that King's legacy holds no meaning for today's children, and author and activist Dr. Vincent Harding, who recalls his association with Dr. King. Find out how King's dream has expanded beyond the black community through the work of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, and Judy Bonds, a rural white woman fighting mountaintop mining.

NOTE: Since this program was produced in 2009, coal mining activist Judy Bonds, featured in the slide show below, passed away from lung cancer.

Reverend Rivers and Majora Carter

Reverend Rivers believes Martin Luther King's dream needs to change to be relevant to today's youth.

1. Reverend Rivers

 "He has a dream. People go to sleep every night. That don't mean it's permanent; you can have another dream. It ran as far as it was going to go, and now we have to find something new."

King's dream is no longer relevant to black youth, says the Reverend Eugene Rivers. And why should it be, he asks, 40 years after King's death? Rivers and the teens he works with in Boston's inner city are fighting a different fight: to help a divided black community restore itself. Majora talks with the Rev. Rivers about the need for the dream to change with the times.

 

The Ella J. Baker House, a community center started by the Reverend Rivers

The Boston TenPoint Coalition, an ecumenical group of clergy and community leaders working on issues affecting minority youth

Paul Mooney and Majora Carter

Majora Carter and Paul Mooney talk at the studios of WNYC Radio, New York.


2. Paul Mooney

 

"I'm like a great white shark … you think you're safe, but you're not."

Nobody is off limits for legendary black comedian Paul Mooney — not Martin Luther King, not Barack Obama.

Mooney has been making people laugh about race for almost 50 years — as a longtime writer for Richard Pryor and with his own Grammy-nominated stand-up. Mooney talks to Majora about meeting King as a young comic, meeting (and fist-bumping) Obama, and the challenges of creating comedy about racism in America.

Hear more of Paul Mooney's comedy

Check out Paul Mooney on Myspace

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, in the early days of the United Farm Workers movement.


3. Dolores Huerta

 Dolores Huerta understands what it's like to live in the shadow of a revered leader, and to carry on the work after he's gone.

For almost 30 years, from the time she and César Chávez co-founded the United Farm Workers until the day Chávez died, Huerta worked by his side. Together, they took down growers, lifted up workers, and coined the phrase "Sí, se puede." Now in her 80s, 15 years after Chávez's death, Huerta continues the work without him — and she can teach the rest of us a thing or two about picking up and plowing on.

 

Visit the UFW Web site

Click here to see photos, audio, and video on the history of the farmworkers' movement — like this video of Coretta Scott King's visit during one of César Chávez's protest fasts

 
MLK

4. MLK XVII

If you scour our nation's phone books, you'll find hundreds of Martin Luther Kings scattered across the country, from Madison, Wisconsin, to Milton, Florida. From Tuskegee, Alabama, to Yuma, Arizona.

We called them up one evening, to learn what it's like to carry his name — and to try and live up to it.

 

See some of the streets named after King at the MLK photo project.

David Conte & John Stirling Walker

Composer David Conte turned Walker's poem into music. The vocal group Chanticleer performed the piece to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King's death.

5. David Conte & John Stirling Walker

"Music could be felt as an expression of something universally human, and at the same time reach into the hearts of individuals." — John Stirling Walker

Martin Luther King's speeches had the rhythm and the power of music — the power to make you feel, as well as think. A new musical tribute to King by composer David Conte and poet John Stirling Walker has that same power.

Walker was inspired to write "The Homecoming" while working in a community with people who are disabled. There, Walker found "people receiving help without feeling indebted, because it is simply in accord with their human dignity and destiny that they be helped." Walker connected this idea of dignity and respect for all humans to King's ideas of justice. Majora talks to the creators of "The Homecoming" about this musical expression of King's still unmet goals.

 

David Conte, the composer of "The Homecoming"

Chanticleer, the vocal group whose performance of "The Homecoming" marked the work's premiere

MLK etal

King quickly jots notes in the hallway of Riverside Church. (Photo courtesy of John C. Goodwin).

Click here for text and MP3 of the speech

6. Vincent Harding

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King took the pulpit at Riverside Church and gave a speech denouncing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Within days, King had lost crucial support, not only from white politicians and journalists, but also from fellow civil rights organizations. A year later, to the day, he was dead.

Vincent Harding, the author of that speech, spoke to Majora about King's last year — about the expanding borders of King's ministry, about King's plans to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington, and about where King himself thought the movement might be heading, at the time of his death.

Listen to "King's Last March," an American RadioWorks documentary about King's last year.

Watch an audio slide show, with Jill Freedman discussing her documentary photography at Resurrection City, the "live-in" protest that was King's last project.

Judy Bonds and Majora Carter

Majora Carter and Judy Bonds survey the effects of mountaintop removal in West Virginia.

7. Judy Bonds

Growing up in Appalachia in the '60s, Judy Bonds didn't hear many positive things about Martin Luther King.

But now, many years later — after Judy's father got sick in the mines, after her grandson pulled fistfuls of dead fish out of the Coal River, after the coal companies started blowing the tops off the mountains in her backyard — Judy started to fight back. And she realized she had a lot to learn from, and add to, King's legacy.

Majora talks to Judy about her work in West Virginia, and about keeping the dream alive while living under threat.

Note: Since this program was produced, Judy Bonds passed away from lung cancer on January 5, 2011.

 

Visit Coal River Mountain Watch

Watch a trailer from Black Diamonds, Catherine Pancake's documentary about mountaintop removal, featuring Judy Bonds.