The Washington Post writes:
Near the end of his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. felt cornered and under siege. His opposition to the Vietnam War was widely criticized, even by friends. He was being pressured both to repudiate the black power movement and to embrace it. Some of his lieutenants were urging him to jettison his urgent new campaign to uplift the poor, believing that King had taken on too much and was compromising support for the civil rights struggle.
Today students learn of his powerful “dream” that children be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Politicians and private citizens of all ideologies summon King’s soaring oratory as the inspiration that challenged the nation to better itself. But this beleaguered young man — he was only 39 when he died — was not just the icon celebrated at Martin Luther King Day programs and taught in U.S. schools.
His life, like those of other historical figures — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt — has been simplified, scholars say, his anger blurred, his militancy rarely discussed, his disappointments and harsh critiques of government’s failures glossed over.
Forty years after King was gunned down by an assassin in Memphis, it is this sharper-edged figure who has come into focus again. To mark today’s anniversary, several scholarly reports have been released charting the nation’s uneven social and economic progress during the past 40 years. Some scholars and former King associates are using the occasion to zero in on the two issues — war and poverty — that were consuming him at the time of his death.