On January 17, 2017, eighty-eight years after the birth of the most revered civil rights leader in the 20th Century, Georgetown University scholar, social activist, reverend, and best-selling author Michael Eric Dyson describes in his new book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, his assessment of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King for our generation. He also describes for BlackPast.org why he was inspired to write Tears We Cannot Stop, a book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read. We at BlackPast.org appreciate Dr. Dyson’s willingness to share this special discussion of his new book with our audience.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is the most quoted black man on the planet. His words are like scripture to you and, yes, to us too. His name is evoked, his speech referenced, during every racial crisis we confront. He has become the language of race itself. He is, too, the history of black America in a dark suit. But he is more than that. He is the struggle and suffering of our people distilled to a bullet in Memphis. King’s martyrdom made him less a man, more a symbol, arguably a civic deity. But there are perils to hero worship. His words get plucked from their original contexts, his ideas twisted beyond recognition. America has washed the grit from his rhetoric.
Beloved, you say you love King, or at least admire him, but we don’t really know him, not the King who was too black and too radical for most of America. King drank from roots deep in black culture. He bathed in black language. He sprang from a black moral womb. Black teachers and preachers shaped King. They gave him fuel for his journey and the inspiration to change the world. King told the truth about you in black America, to black America, in ways he couldn’t tell you. He said the toughest things about you in sacred black spaces. He did it because he felt safe with us. He did that to let us know that he knew what we were up against. He did it to let us know we weren’t