This video falls victim to the "great man theory of history." If the individual, Martin Luther King Jr, did not exist, the civil rights movement would have been led by other people, and indeed was led by other people besides King such as Joseph Lowery, Whitney Y0ung and Medgar Evers, among others. The movement was bigger than any one person. The video also sanitizes and over-simplifies the legacy of King, and under-estimates how entrenched racism was in his day, and our own, in which African Americans still greatly fear the police.
"The US today would definitely be less racially divided" and "a lot more color-blind today" if King lived, the narrator states, pointing out the racial divisions and riots that occurred immediately following his assassination that never healed.
Actually, King might truly be a martyr, in that race relations are better in America because he died for the cause of racial justice, and in death, touched and moved hearts in ways he could not while alive. Without King's martyrdom, and the nation's embrace of his example, it's unlikely Barack Obama would have become president in 2008.
True, those April 1968 riots would not have occurred if King lived, but there were race riots in urban areas in the summers of 1965 through 1967 when King was alive, due to the despair of the impoverished, so there may well have been more riots in 1968 and beyond even if King were alive. Such riots usually create a white backlash.
The video ignores the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was quite well known in the 1960s, and simply QUITE UNPOPULAR among white people, even so-called "moderates." Jarvis DeBerry, deputy opinions editor for The Times-Picayune pointed out in a 2016 column on the 48th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination that when he was alive, King was less admired than a Southern segregationist, Alabama Governor George Wallace, according to Gallup Polls.
"King wasn't always America's civil rights teddy bear," DeBerry wrote. "It's true that now he's the person that every reasonable person hugs up on and professes to love, but when he was alive, he was often viewed as a threat to the American way of life. He had an untold number of enemies and opponents." He was not simply "an anodyne and dreamy do-gooder."
"In 1964, he was fourth on the list" of most admired Americans. "In 1965, he had dropped down to sixth, just ahead of Richard Nixon. But in 1966 and 1967, the last full years of his life, he wasn't on the list at all.
"In that 1967 Gallup poll, George Wallace -- "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" -- was eighth on the list of most-admired Americans. Of course, Wallace would also be shot, but not for standing up for right the way King did..."
"In 1963, King had a 41% positive and a 37% negative rating; in 1964, it was 43% positive and 39% negative; in 1965, his rating was 45% positive and 45% negative; and in 1966 -- the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure -- it was 32% positive and 63% negative."
Only after the establishment of the Martin Luther King holiday in the 1980s did King become almost universally admired. By 1999, King ranked only behind Mother Teresa when Americans were asked to name "one of the people I admire most from the century." But one wonders how deep the understanding of King's controversial actions and philosophy of non-violence goes among those who claim to admire him.
Deberry concludes: "Let us remember that he (King) was hated, and let us ponder what animosity for King says generally about the majority's hostility for protest. Let the choice of Wallace as one of the country's most admired men be a cautionary tale: There may be an inverse relationship between being moral and being admired."
It's preposterous to say if King lived, there would not have been the Los Angeles riots of 1992 sparked by the beating of Rodney King. That timeline is far too distant. And impossible to link his continued advocacy beyond 1968 to preventing a Republican Southern Strategy appealing to racists in 1970, the shifting of political parties in the 1970s, or to an earlier end to the Vietnam War, which King had no power to stop.
King's "I Have A Dream" speech was largely unknown when he was assassinated in 1968. The media had failed to cover it. See this account of the Washington Post's coverage of the 1963 March on Washington, which did not mention King or his speech.
The narrator does not mention that President Ronald Reagan called King a "communist sympathizer," and only agreed to sign the MLK Holiday legislation when he realized vetoeing it would hurt him and the Republican Party in the 1980s.
King was not popular among the majority of whites while he was alive, he was politically marginalized on the far left by white standards. And yet he was considered old fashioned and too conservative by young black militants, who split off from his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Whether he could have healed that divide and maintained his effectiveness is impossible to know.
Some commentators naively suggest King would have become America's first black president. Not a chance. Racism was far too embedded in American society. If he sought federal elective office, at best he could have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia (perhaps to the seat his advisor Andrew Young was elected to in 1972), or as mayor of Atlanta. By the mid-1970s, as Southern Democrats embraced the civil rights movement, perhaps President Jimmy Carter would have made King Ambassador to the United Nations 1977-81, as he appointed Young to that position.
In the years since my uncle, Mac Secrest, a journalist and civil rights conciliator for the US Department of Justice, knew King in the early to mid-1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., the man, he wrote in his 2004 autobiography, Curses and Blessings, "has been transformed into Dr. King, martyred saint. It is difficult to arrive at a true assessment. I suspect if he were alive today, he would not be a favorite of the conservative right who selectively use quotes from his Washington speech in 1963 to advance their own agenda. I believe King would have been pulled to the left, not only out of political necessity but also out of inner conviction.
"He would have more aggressively opposed the Vietnam War, become more closely allied with the black underclass, and may have beat the drum of racial reparations. He certainly would oppose school vouchers, favor affirmative action, argue against a greater military budget in favor of a renewed war on poverty and universal health care. I can't imagine his favoring foreign wars that I believe he would call military adventurism.
"As his friend Ralph Abernathy said in 1968, "Martin wasn't perfect." He had his flaws. Although he fought racism and was martyred for it, I sensed in King a distrust of many whites, particularly politicians. How could a man his age, raised in segregation and subject to all the humiliation such a system caused, have helped feeling some resentment? His treatment at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI didn’t help matters. I am uncertain that the notion, so dear to all these white conservatives today who hated it in 1963, that people should be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, would be paramount in King's thinking were he alive today. He would understand that race problems in America would not yield with integration and that the whole question is far more complex than skin color and character content."