Dr. Charles Payne “Demytholizes” Dr. Martin Luther King
By: Mariah Pepe
“We’ve resurrected the messenger and buried the message,” said Dr. Payne. As the keynote speaker of Martin Luther King week, Payne graced the Adams State campus on January 24 with a talk on King’s philosophy and how he should be remembered.
As a junior at Syracuse when King was assassinated, Payne was highly involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He arranged a plethora of protests, yet he wasn’t interested in King’s ideas at the time of his death. “He’s not seen as an interesting thinker because he’s associated so closely with nonviolence,” said Payne. “People associate nonviolence as avoiding physical violence. That’s the simplified version people pick up from translations of Ghandi, but it’s really not thinking of your opponents as evil that signifies nonviolence,” said Payne. Payne recalls how King respected his enemies’ mental states as he stopped protesting to recognize Bill O’Connor’s wedding and tried to engage people on the phone who called to threaten him. He treated people with respect, even after they had mistreated him.
The way King is remembered focuses highly around the “I Have a Dream” speech. “It was the most superficial of all of his speeches. It didn’t offer any insight to King’s actual opinions or thought,” said Payne. He encourages people to seek out information about his other works.
Another problem is that King is seen as a figure that is larger than life. People tend to forget about the thousands of people working to set the stage for him. Many people persisted everyday so King could make an appearance and an immediate impact. King is frequently perceived as carrying the Civil Rights Movement on his shoulders, when in reality it was the product of the work of an entire generation.
Payne is currently a professor at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. He has received many awards for his success as an author, editor, and founder of urban education projects. His major interests include urban education, school reform, social inequality, social change, and modern African American history.