Reminder: Dr. King was a Radical

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary, an anti-capitalist, and an anti-fascist.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
from the Movement for Black Lives

So many who sing Dr. King’s praises today will speak of him as a moderate peacemaker, but in truth, he was a revolutionary who not only believed in peace and love but also militant organizing, sacrificing for Black liberation, and refusing to be silenced.

He was a Black man who was filled with rage, love, grief, joy, frustration, hope, and fear — feelings our community still knows all too well today. All those feelings moved him to fight for the freedom of our people against the white-supremacist, capitalist status quo.

He detailed a beautiful dream of a free and harmonious world, but he was not naive to the reality of what it would take to achieve. He also foresaw the possibility, even likelihood, of a rise in fascism in response to the progress Black people make toward freedom — a reality we saw play out then and that we are seeing again today, across the globe. He determined that a constituency of white Americans “have declared that democracy isn’t worth having if it involves equality.”

In Andre Henry’s article, “Dr. King Tried to Warn Us About American Fascism. Will We Listen Before It’s Too Late?” (January 18, 2022), he shares King’s prescient words: “The segregationist goal is the total reversal of all reforms with the re-establishment of naked oppression and, if need be, a native form of fascism.”

Fascism is a tool that white supremacy and capitalism have always turned to when their existence has been perceived to be under threat. It deals in lies, violence, and absolute control of all who would seek to dismantle it: Black and brown people, poor people, women, the queer and trans community, and other marginalized folks. It is a backlash we know to expect when we make headway in our mission for liberation.

However, knowing to expect it does not mean feeling ready for a mass shooter to show up in your grocery store; or for a nation’s capitol to be attacked in an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected leader; or for generations of hard-won victories to be ripped down or undermined in the legal system; or for you to be forced to carry a pregnancy you didn’t want, can’t afford, or will put your life at risk.

Backlash is inevitable. But it is not harmless “freedom of speech,” it’s fascism, and it will not be temporary unless we make it so. Dr. King knew this and warned us of what could happen if we do not disrupt its rise.

“They’ll throw us into concentration camps…. The sick people and the fascists will be strengthened. They’ll cordon off the ghetto and issue passes for us to get in and out. We cannot stand two more summers like last summer without leading inevitably to a right-wing takeover and a fascist state that will destroy the soul of the nation. To prevent this, we’re going to be militant.” (Stewart Burns, To The Mountaintop, “Dr. King Warned of Fascism in America,” August 27, 2018)

As we see the fascist backlash emerge globally, we will come together — we will fight back. Our future will not be Dr. King’s greatest fear. It will be his dream.


The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) formed in December of 2014, was created as a space for Black organizations across the country to debate and discuss the current political conditions, develop shared assessments of what political interventions were necessary in order to achieve key policy, cultural and political wins, convene organizational leadership in order to debate and co-create a shared movement wide strategy. Under the fundamental idea that we can achieve more together than we can separately.

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