Unconventional Wisdom: A New Legacy

There are few events in Washington that get me excited. But I’m relishing the opportunity to see the opening of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial this weekend. King’s actions and words offer hope, inspiration, and a vision that, as an African-American and a practitioner of social justice, guide me daily.

King’s legacy is also closely tied to IPS. In 1963, as King was giving his most famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, IPS was just opening its doors. Shortly thereafter, in 1964, several leading African-American activists joined the staff and turned IPS into a base of support for the civil rights movement in the nation’s capital.

Unable to avoid controversy even in his memorial, there have been heated debates over King’s statue — the choice of a non-African-American as the sculptor and the bold, cross-armed pose that was selected for the memorial. IPS board chair E. Ethelbert Miller took these critiques head on when he was quoted in The Washington Post, saying “I love that King is looking defiant …With so many of our rights (and money) being taken away we need some cold ‘Stone Leaders’ to stop the assault. Maybe the King monument will become a regular meeting place for the poor who can’t take no more.”

We like that King is looking defiant. CC Photo by absentmindedprof.

We like that King is looking defiant. CC Photo by absentmindedprof.

Also honoring King’s tradition of civil disobedience, IPS expert Janet Redman was arrested protesting a proposed oil pipeline from Canada that would carry oil rendered from tar sands. Before being detained, she said, “Martin Luther King, Jr. called civil disobedience ‘the sword that heals.’ Today I’m joining more than 2,000 ordinary folks from the United States and Canada who are doing something extraordinary — putting their bodies on the police line to say no to the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.”

King often lent his support to unsung heroes. And in that spirit, IPS announced the recipients of our 35th annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards, the Wisconsin Progressive Movement and Bethlehem, The Migrant’s Shelter from Mexico. I invite you to join IPS in celebrating these courageous organizations on October 12th at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

Finally, I want to welcome back our own hero, IPS’s director John Cavanagh, as he returns from his sabbatical. It has been an honor and privilege to lead IPS over the past year and I look forward to my new role as associate director as IPS tackles many of the same challenges King faced: injustice, rampant war, and a divided country.

Unconventional Wisdom is a biweekly newsletter published by the Institute for Policy Studies. To receive Unconventional Wisdom or other IPS newsletters in your inbox, sign up here.