Young Blacks in MLK’s Shadow

Young African Americans haven't squandered King's legacy; their fight is just different.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a towering historical figure. For some, he is the greatest American ever to live. Most people in this country, regardless of their political affiliation, consider him to be an inspiration.

This respect and admiration is quite different from the opposition he faced while he was alive, but it’s this posthumous popularity that has allowed him to become the first non-president to be honored with a monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The 30-foot-tall granite sculpture of a deeply serious-looking King now stands between memorials honoring Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, serving as a large and imposing reminder of the patron saint of black America. He is literally towering over us.

And as we get set for the memorial’s dedication Oct. 16, originally scheduled to take place on the anniversary of the March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech but postponed by Hurricane Irene, it’s important to discuss the generations he left behind to execute his dream. With no grand, history-making movement to define a generation, it might be easy to write off young blacks as having dropped the ball in the fight for justice and equality. But that would be unfair.

The hip-hop generation, loosely defined as those born between 1965 and 1984, and more so the Millennial generation — generally considered those born after 1981 (myself included) — live in the shadow of those who came of age during the civil rights movement: black America’s “greatest generation.” We are inundated with stories of sit-ins, Freedom Rides, police beatings, fire hoses and attack dogs.