The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., has long been one of my personal heroes, beginning when I was a youngster growing up in an industrial suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Later, after I decided that I wanted to teach History, I pondered where Dr. King and his legacy would fit into this. Fortunately for me, I didn’t really have to answer that question, either while I was in college at the University of Delaware (because the American History course I took did not get past World War II), or, after a two-year tour in the U.S. Army, in graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta (because I was studying American History before the Civil War and, even as a teaching assistant, never took my American History survey course much past the end of the Second World War).
Once I signed on at The Westminster Schools, an Atlanta “prep school,” and learned that I would be teaching United States History, among other courses, the need to fit The Rev. King into the American story became more pressing. Given the pace of the typical academic year at Westminster, however, I discovered that, by the time I reached the post-World War II world, there was little time left before I had to begin prepping my Advanced Placement U.S. History students for their end-of-the-year, comprehensive exam.
So many important postwar trends to cover and so little time available! Eventually, I decided to focus on a few “big themes” for the post-1945 period: the Presidency; the War in Vietnam; and–wait for it–the modern Civil Rights Movement. And yet, the chance to emphasize the role of King in the Civil Rights Movement was, for me, a long road (look here, here, and here for the initial steps along that road).
I was able to develop a brief unit on the Civil Rights Movement for APUSH, but I still felt as if I were giving it short shrift. Then, a few years before the end of my time at Westminster, I inherited a one-semester, junior/senior elective course on the Modern American Civil Rights Movement that I taught for several years.
During that same period, I also had the opportunity to take over the editorship of the History Department Newsletter. As editor, I naturally felt compelled to opine from time to time about issues in the study of American History that I felt were important and should not be ignored at Westminster. And–surprise!–chief among said themes was the Civil Rights Movement in general and Dr. King’s role in particular.
Following my retirement, and the launching of this blog as a sort of replacement for my role as editor of the History Department Newsletter, I continued to maintain that students must understand both the background of the Civil Rights Movement (i.e., the so-called “Age of Jim Crow”) and the Movement itself. And, perhaps this was inevitable, in January 2012 I decided to offer a post centered on my personal reflections about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, the main sources for which were several editorials I had written for the History Department Newsletter.
That 2012 post soon became one of the most popular at “Retired But Not Shy,” and, I must admit, it remains my personal favorite of more than one hundred posts at this site. I revised the King post–and re-posted it–in January 2015. I know that a number of you who follow this blog have probably read one of the versions of this post, but, if you haven’t, or if you’re new to the blog, or if you’ve read one of the posts but are in the mood to meditate on Dr. King’s role in the American story, I’m attaching a link to the most recent version:
I hope you enjoy it.