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MLK Celebration Cautions: Racism Isn't Dead Yet

Historical Society speakers say "sanitized" image of King glosses over his commitment to "economic empowerment"

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Indianapolis has marked Martin Luther King Day with a warning that the nation still hasn't achieved King's dream.

51 years after King's death, several speakers at the Indiana Historical Society worried we now have a "sanitized" version of King. Central Indiana Community Foundation vice president Tamara Winfrey-Harris says King's message often gets boiled down to "everybody should like each other." She says that's a huge oversimplification. Even if "every white person were nice to every black person," she says, the systems constructed over two centuries, from criminal justice to economics, leave minorities fighting to catch up.

Deputy Mayor David Hampton says it's that element of King's message that often gets overlooked, and which would make many people uncomfortable today. He says economic empowerment was always a key part of King's vision, and notes the Montgomery bus boycott which launched King into the national spotlight was a dramatic demonstration of African-Americans' economic muscle.

Hampton says the U-S should recognize both how far it's come and how far it still needs to go. He led the audience in a brief pop-quiz-via-text, inviting people to guess whether appalling images of racism took place closer to 1919 or 2019. Both were from 2017: a photo of protesters holding Nazi and Confederate flags at a torchlight march by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a message from a self-described "concerned parent" complaining that a day care worker was "too dark" and "not wanted" there.

Congressman Andre Carson criticized what he describes as "government-led efforts" to discriminate against minority groups and disenfranchise African-Americans, and suggested King would recognize much of today's debate as the same issues he fought against. He declares King would be on the side of furloughed federal workers going unpaid in a shutdown he calls "a fight [pitting] tolerance and compassion against racism and fear," and blasted President Trump as "a president run amuck" and in need of reining in by the judicial and legislative branches.

Indianapolis leaders hold a memorial wreath to Rev. Martin Luther King to open the annual Martin Luther King Day observance, at the Indiana Historical Society. (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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