Not an Icon, a Man

Would civil rights legend be controversial in today's political climate?
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2008 6:41 PM CDT
Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights marchers head for Montgomery, the state's capitol, in this March 21, 1965 file photo. (AP Photo, File)   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – On the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Washington Post looks past the legend at the multidimensional figure scholars and King's associates consider his true legacy. ”His challenge was much bigger than being nice," says historian Taylor Branch. "It was even bigger than race. It was whether we take our national purpose seriously, which is the full promise of equal citizenship."

Time softens recollections of King's anger, militancy, and harsh criticism of the government, but the issues he was concentrating on in 1968—poverty and war—resonate today. "He was very discouraged," says another historian. "On the other hand, I think he was exhilarated. He was finally doing what he felt he was on this Earth to do—preach the social gospel, help the poor."