Martin Luther King Jr. ignited support across the globe, writes history scholar Stephen Tuck in an op-ed at the New York Times, and his legacy worldwide remains profound — and contested.

Indeed, it was King’s “I have a dream” speech that sealed his global fame. We’ve all seen photos of the hundreds of thousands marching in 1963 Washington. But thousands also marched that day in London, Tel Aviv and Accra, Ghana.


In my home country, Britain, support for the march was overwhelming. Many watched King’s speech live via the newly launched Telstar satellite. In London, demonstrators marched to the American Embassy carrying a banner that read, “Your fight is our fight.”

This was more than just an expression of empathy: that summer, Paul Stephenson, a black community organizer in Bristol, led a boycott of the city’s buses. A charismatic and gifted orator, Mr. Stephenson had been to the Deep South to learn tactics and spoke reverently of King’s Montgomery Bus Boycott.

King visited Britain the following year. He accepted invitations abroad, his speechwriter Clarence Jones told me recently, “to get his message out.” It seemed to work. King’s sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral was front-page news in the United States, while his meeting with activists led to the formation of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, the pre-eminent anti-discrimination group in Britain, fashioned on King’s nonviolent, pro-integration model.


Meanwhile, British liberals looked to the American movement as a template for resolving Britain’s immigrant problems. Politicians seeking to introduce civil rights legislation met with King in Britain and traveled to the United States on fact-finding visits. (King wasn’t alone: in 1967 the archbishop of Canterbury even invited the Temptations, in London on tour, to drop into Lambeth Palace so he could get some advice on race relations.)

Read Stephen Tuck's entire op-ed at the New York Times.