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All Revved Up: How MLK's Anti-Poverty Message Has Been Sanitized

This 1966 image released by HBO shows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, and Stokely Carmichael in Jackson, Miss., at the Meredith March, used in the documentary, "King in the Wilderness."
Bob Fitch, Stanford University Libraries/HBO via AP

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4, 1968, King was shot in Memphis, Tennessee — a city he was visiting to support African-American sanitation workers striking over unfair working conditions.

Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett Price say that in the 50 intervening years, King's activism and anti-poverty message have been sanitized. 

Monroe pointed to a speech King delivered a year before his assassination, outlining his opposition to the Vietnam War. King believed the resources poured into the war would be better spent on social programs to help the nation's needy.

"A year to this day, April 4th, 1967 he was in the pulpit of Riverside Church giving a sermon, 'Beyond Vietnam,' and again a year to that day he was assassinated," Monroe explained.

"The issues have not changed. It's a different war, it's a different set of evangelicals, but we're still fighting those issues," she continued.

King's activism was not always accepted by fellow religious leaders, said Price.

"Dr. King got kicked out of the national Baptist ministry association because he was a young rabble-rouser," Price said. 

"We have certainly sanitized [him]" he added. 

Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. Emmett Price is a professor and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Click the audio player above to hear the full discussion.

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