by Mark and Paul Engler, Salon.com

mlkMartin Luther King Jr. is often held up as one of the leading pacifists in American history — a moral voice who called for the nation to come together across lines of racial division.

Yet, while this vision of King as a peaceable and unifying figure may be comforting, it is incomplete at best and in many ways misleading.

In its time, King’s use of nonviolent resistance generated a nearly unending stream of controversy. And in this era of Black Lives Matter, it is critical to remember that, far more than a serving as a peacemaker, King was an advocate of disruption.

Looking back from the safe remove of history, it can be easy to imagine that landmark social and political causes of the past— whether they involved ending slavery, securing the franchise for women, or establishing standards of workplace safety — were popular and widely celebrated. But the truth is that these issues generated tremendous acrimony. In promoting them, activists had to make the difficult decision to invite division and hostility before they achieved their most impressive results.

King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) often drew criticism not only from defenders of segregation, but also would-be allies who believed the protests the organization helped lead were unduly abrasive and ultimately counter-productive. In this way, King bears much in common with the #BlackLivesMatter activists who are currently being attacked for perceived impatience and incivility in promoting their cause…

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