Roland Martin urges campus to rethink MLK’s history

Martin discusses media's misrepresentation of black voices. EMMA FORD / THE FLAT HAT

In below-freezing temperatures at 6 p.m. Jan. 31, a group of students huddled around the Sir Christopher Wren building, hugging, dancing and talking in attempts to stay warm. They were there to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration March.  

Attendees first listened to a few speeches and poems about King conducted by members of the Kappa Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the College of William and Mary’s chapter of the NAACP and the Black Student Organization.  

Afterwards, the students were led by Featuring Lyrics of Other Worlds A Cappella toward the Sadler Center, where they had the opportunity to listen to journalist Roland Martin speak about the true MLK, race relations in present day America and the media’s role in covering black voices.  

Arman Jones ’20 came out to the march in hopes of supporting his fellow students and the legacy of King.  

“Even though it’s cold outside, MLK’s legacy still speaks volumes for itself,” Jones said. “It’s only right for us to support the march and continue to speak the word.”

“Even though it’s cold outside, MLK’s legacy still speaks volumes for itself,” Jones said. “It’s only right for us to support the march and continue to speak the word.” 

Martin is known for his role as host and managing editor of “#RolandMartinUnfiltered,” a daily online show that focuses on news, entertainment and sports from an African-American perspective. Martin is also a current senior analyst for the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”  

The event opened with Assistant Dean of Students Bobak Kasrai moderating a question-and-answer session with Martin. Before Kasrai began asking questions, Martin set the foundation for what he wished the audience knew before discussing King and his legacy.  

“Let’s start this way,” Martin said. “Here’s a fundamental problem that I have had historically with these events — and I’ve done any number of them — is that we focus on sanitized Dr. King. I use the phrase, ‘Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become America’s civil rights mascot.’”  

Martin went on to discuss how King’s approval rating was lower in the final years of his life and that during that time King had a lower approval rating than President Donald Trump’s approval rating, which according to the Gallup Poll has a term average of 39 percent. 

After his speech on the Vietnam War, Martin explained that King’s black popularity drastically decreased.  

“America hated King when he was fighting for black freedom,” Martin said. “It’s easy to love a martyr, but did America love him when he was here?”  

According to Martin, many of the celebrations over King are superficial, with most people only knowing small parts of two of his speeches, “Normalcy No More,” which many refer to as the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the last two minutes of his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.  

Martin challenged the audience to be honest with themselves over whether they were celebrating the sanitized King or the King who would be challenging multiple controversial issues pertaining to today’s society.  

In addition, Martin reminded the audience that the Black Freedom Movement, often referred to as the Civil Rights Movement by the media, was not solely King’s movement. Instead, it was an immense network of individuals working to make the movement successful.  

“I get it; this is to recognize the federal holiday of MLK, but go back to 1964 when he took the Nobel Peace Prize,” Martin said. “He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the movement. I believe King would find it problematic that the day was about him.”  

The questions then changed to how young people could evoke change today. Martin referred to the Black Freedom Movement, explaining how many of the initiatives of movement were driven by young people. However, Martin reminded the audience that for every movement, there is the energy and passion of young individuals and the wisdom and knowledge of older individuals.  

“The problem is when we get stuck on stupid by saying you dumb and young, and you old and tired. Both won’t listen to each other,” Martin said.  

According to Martin, the Black Lives Matter Movement struggled because the movement did not set up a strong foundation.  

Martin told the audience that King said that black America’s greatest enemy is the white moderate, and that any progress black America makes is followed by white America responding with a feeling that black America had made enough progress.  

He listed the ending of slavery followed by the Reconstruction and the Black Freedom Movement followed by white flight, and he suggested that the election of Trump acted as a response to the election of Barack Obama as the first black president.   

Martin then segued into discussing the media and his role as a black journalist.  

“I’m a black journalist,” Martin said. “Okay, I know why I’m there. I’m there to say some stuff other folks won’t say.”

“I’m a black journalist,” Martin said. “Okay, I know why I’m there. I’m there to say some stuff other folks won’t say.” 

He talked about his show’s coverage of the disappearance and death of black men who were later found dead in the home of Democratic donor Ed Buck, and how he and other black journalists were following this story long before predominately white media outlets began their coverage. 

“I can’t assume somebody else is going to say it,” Martin said. “I can’t assume somebody else is going to raise the point, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I have lost opportunities in being what MLK said, militant.”

He explained that America is not concerned with individuals being deemed as revolutionaries if those individuals are white. He argued that if the Founding Fathers received praise as revolutionaries, then MLK and the Black Panthers should receive the same level of praise.     

Martin discussed that white supremacy has affected the term “militant,” and in that sense has degraded black militancy, while rewarding militancy if the individual is white.  

He argues that America does not need to have a national conversation about race, but that individuals need to engage in challenging dialogue within their families about how they speak about race in America.  

“It is hard for white Americans to listen to what I am saying because it requires them to do something that white America has never done en masse and that is confront the reality of whiteness in America and how it has benefitted them, even if they are not rich,” Martin said. “… it is hard for them to understand that because they grew up reading his story not history.”  

Martin refers to “his story” as the white-washed version of events, which he does not view as objective history.   

The event was then opened up to questions, where audience members asked Martin to discuss the role of Malcolm X, slum conditions in northern cities and the role Martin plays in upholding King’s legacy.  

Collin Parker ’20 found the event to be informative and inspired him to take this information and use it within his life.  

“He brought to light a lot of problems that you don’t really think about when you think about the Civil Rights Movement,” Parker said. “He kind of made me want to go back and do research and really think through things and things that you see and understand what’s real — what’s real history.”


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