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Honoring MLK: Remembered For the Extremist That He Was

“The question is not whether we will be extremists… but what kind of extremists we will be…” Would MLK be a “school reformer” in the mold of Rahm, Bloomberg, Rhee or Broad?  Do you think he would be a member of the anti-union Democrats for Education Reform? Or anti-union Students First? Or support organizations that take money (Teach For America) from the anti-union Walton Foundation?…  What do you think MLK had to say about “Right to Work”? What do you think he would say about the corporate-funded Center for Union Facts personal attack on Randi Weingarten in Times Square in NYC?


MLK was an ardent supporter of unions … MLK was an extremist, he spoke out against neoliberalism and economic oppression. 

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted.

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… We demand this fraud be stopped.

History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.

The SEIU writes,

No single person has made greater contributions toward the advancement of both the civil rights and labor movements than Dr. King—and his inspiring words about labor resonate just as fiercely today as they did half a century ago.

He saw strengthening unions and lifting up workers as critical to achieving long term justice for African Americans and helped motivate hundreds of thousands of activists, both black and white, through his speeches and the example he set.

As we celebrate the anniversary of Dr. King’s 85th birthday, listen to one of the last speeches he gave to 1199SEIU and other union members and supporters about continuing the fight for social and economic justice:

So if you are a supporter of union busting via mayoral controlparent triggervouchers, and charters you are at odds with MLK, and you will find yourself on the wrong side of history. Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 4.22.57 AM

Be inspired to be a creative extremist for unions and living wages. Honor MLK’s memory and reject the “right to work” neoliberal nonsense.


p.s. Also, check out the Prezi for the keynote that I gave to the National Council of Urban Education Associations in the Fall of 2013 entitled Reframing The Refrain: The Real Civil Rights and Education Issues. Click here.

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About Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig (705 Articles)
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

1 Comment on Honoring MLK: Remembered For the Extremist That He Was

  1. Brilliantly stated!

    If MLK were alive today, would he approve “separate but innovative” now dominating Dallas ISD where 23% of the 553 Anglo-non-Hispanic DISD freshmen students are now concentrated as over 59% of the freshman class at Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet, one of the highest rated high schools in the nation?

    Would Dr. King have approved this concentration of one race while only 1% of the 8,103 DISD Black and Hispanic freshmen students can make it past the BTW Arts Magnet auditions process to gain entry?

    Minorities and families from poverty are also under-represented in those applying at BTW due to the history of minority rejection. Teachers know this and often do not encourage promising and talented minority students to apply at BTW. Too often they are relatively unprepared due to poverty and the resulting lack of private lessons or tutors often seen as needed to be prepared for the audition at BTW.

    What would MLK say about “Separate but Innovative” if he were alive today?


5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Julian Vasquez Heilig on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Extremist | Diane Ravitch's blog
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  3. “We only have books about African Americans in February”: Be an eloquent radical | Cloaking Inequity
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  5. Honoring MLK’s legacy (and not co-opting it) – Cloaking Inequity

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