If there is any doubt that “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was the most influential work of political theology in the last 100 years, it is because King’s legacy has been bowdlerized. The sanitized King of popular history is the non-violent alternative to Malcolm X and Black Power, an enthusiastic liberal in the tradition of Frederick Douglass.
Over at Jacobin, Thomas J. Sugrue draws attention to Thomas F. Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights and the continuity between King and radical leftism. King, we will remember, was martyred in the lead-up to his multiracial 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. His heirs were the people assembled in “Resurrection City” on the National Mall, but they never engaged in the civil disobedience that King envisioned.
One of the reasons for projecting the importance of King, in the future, is that we in the United States are not finished working out his legacy. Someone will feel the pull to resurrect King in order to work out the legacy of the Resurrection.