5 Provocative MLK Statements They Don’t Want You to Know About

Andre Henry
4 min readJan 15, 2024

Most white Americans think they’d have loved Dr. King, had they lived in his era. They invoke King’s name to denounce every modern form of Black protest. “Dr. King would never [fill in the blank],” they insist.

Judging by the wide array of King-would-nevers they weaponize, you can only conclude white people think King protested racism in a way that made white people of his time comfortable. That he earned white America’s respect by protesting “the right way.”

They’re wrong.

King was a polarizing figure and master strategist of social disruption. By the time he was killed, King was more hated among Americans than Fidel Castro. He was the most hated man in America, according to a 1967 poll.

He was not the toothless mascot of liberal anti-racism he is depicted as today — with its vapid calls for “unity” and diversity.

He was an anti-capitalist, revolutionary, and self-described “extremist for love”. We should remember him that way.

Here are five quotes that allow the radical King to speak for himself.

1. The One That Shows Nonviolence Isn’t An Ideal, But An Active Method of Struggle: Birth of a New Nation, April 7, 1957:

“Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.”

This sermon was delivered in the aftermath of the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emancipation of Ghana. King used the pulpit to pull together the stories of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement (from which he and other Black leaders learned about the power and potential of nonviolent struggle), Ghana’s newly acquired independence, and the Montgomery boycott to inspire his congregation to continue to stand up to oppression.

Notice that King’s conception of nonviolence is more than a moral ideal. It is an active method of confrontation with systemic oppression. It is a form of political agitation necessary for freedom. People who invoke “nonviolence” today seem to mean everything except what King was talking about.

2. The One Showing that Racism Is More Than A Problem of Personal Sentiment: The World House, 1967

“In country after country we see white men building empires on the sweat and suffering of colored people.”

When King spoke of racial injustice, he often did so in international terms. In doing so, he didn’t just highlight the bad attitudes of white American racists — trying to convince them of better ideas. Rather, like any Black revolutionaries (including his wife), King saw that the problem of racism was connected to capitalism and militaristic imperialism.

Written while on sabbatical in Jamaica (woi!), as part of his final book Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community, King reminds us that racism is a structural problem with political and economic consequences.

3. The One Showing King Could Be Salty: Let My People Go, December 10, 1965

“Africa does have spectacular savages and brutes today, but they are not black. They are the sophisticated white rulers of South Africa who profess to be cultured, religious and civilised, but whose conduct and philosophy stamp them unmistakably as modern-day barbarians.”

Could you imagine King had said this on CNN in our time? The pearl-clutching we’d see.

White people pretend King never ruffled any feathers with the way he spoke about white people. But this quote shows us that King could use his eloquence for a scathing lick back.

Seriously though, the notion that persecuted people win their freedom by speaking nicely about their oppressors is nowhere proven in history, not even by King himself.

4. The One Showing King Understood Anti-Racism As Anti-Capitalism: Opening Remarks at Conference for New Politics Convention, 1967

“Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.”

Notice how King draws a throughline from slavery to poverty to neocolonialism. In King’s thought, racism and capitalism (and the violence needed to uphold this system) are intertwined.

5. The One Showing Anti-Racism Requires Revolution, Not Reform: Interview with David Halberstam, 1967

“For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

Nuff said.

So What?

If we’re going to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, we must honor what he stood for. He was an advocate of political agitation for economic justice and social revolution. That’s why the Powers had to get rid of him.

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Andre Henry

Best-selling author, award-winning musician, and activist writing about resilience and revolution.