Beware of advice from people who don’t want you to succeed. Last week, someone on Twitter sent Bernice King, the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a minister herself, an iconic 1965 photo of her father and mother, arms linked, at the front of a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The men all wear suits and ties, and one carries a little girl in a fancy dress. Coretta Scott King, Bernice’s mother, wears a plaid skirt suit. American flags fly everywhere, and in one corner of the photo is a very young John Lewis, future congressman. Superimposed over the picture are the words “THIS IS A PROTEST,” clearly offered as a sharp rebuke to the messier, disruptive protests sweeping across America and dominating television news and social media feeds today.

The photo presents a beautiful image. But displayed out of context, like a graduation snapshot pulled from a family album, it offers a distorted picture of King’s life, the development of the civil rights movement and the much more complicated process of social change. Social movements are sloppy and undisciplined affairs, with people and organizations spilling in and out of action over long periods of time, deploying a wide repertoire of tactics­­­ in the service of diverse goals. When we look back, we always see an edited history that grossly simplifies the knotty politics of social change, identifying an archetypal “good” protester — often King — to provide a contrast and criticism of contemporary committed activists, who are always judged to fall short.

Read on in The Washington Post:


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