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This is a deep dive into Martin Luther King Jr. as a growing, changing person. Michael Eric Dyson shows that popular misunderstandings are often done on purpose. People love to borrow convenient lines from the “I Have a Dream” speech and act like those few pages is all he is. Memorializing him like that severely tones down his message. And then treating him like an overdone hero makes people feel like they don’t actually have to engage with his actual ideology.
When really the best stuff is about King is that he faces his lessons head on. Like after some successes in the South, King comes to Chicago to do the same thing and realizes it’s not the same thing. What worked for him down there was tailor-made to their social conditions. Dyson breaks down that dynamic between the “quiet rebellion” in the South and the “subversive exaggeration” in the North so smooth (Dyson 104-7). Dyson also mentions that part of Malcolm X’s problem with him might be because deep down he knew his own methodology wouldn’t have been possible in the South. Cuz King was really standing up to white racism in the street. Can’t hate on that.
I knew already from reading King’s books that he becomes more and more radical, but I May Not Get There With You explains clearly how it happens. It also brings in his speeches and personal angles that you don’t get from King’s own writing. Dyson covers King’s lame views on women and history with plagiarism, but it’s not done to shame him. It’s an effort to recognize him as human. King doesn’t have to be a perfect angel to matter. Actually, following his revolutionary journey over time is a vital lesson on political education and self-actualization: don’t just stay where you’re at. Keep moving forward.
Best line: King meant nothing less than to change the world. (Michael Eric Dyson 305)