Keeping MLK’s Legacy Alive through Youth Activism

Dr. King holds up an image of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman at a press conference following their disappearance

When I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in late August of 1964, I was awestruck. He and his wife, Coretta Scott King, came to pay their condolences to my parents shortly after my brother’s death. Andrew was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan earlier that summer, along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Their bodies were discovered 44 days after they disappeared, buried in an earthen dam in Mississippi. I remember sitting quietly at the dinner table, while Dr. King and his wife spoke with my parents.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet. He pointed out the inconsistencies between our great American ideals and everyday practices. He preached a doctrine of fairness, equality, and brotherly love. His calm and thoughtful demeanor inspired people to look more closely at the inconsistencies, particularly racial disparities, in this country. Like most prophets, Martin Luther King, Jr. faced great danger, and eventually he, too, was murdered, because his activism threatened the existing systems of power.

After meeting this great leader at the age of 17, I realized how difficult it is for the average white person to comprehend the depths to which inequality runs through the structure of our country.

My brother understood. Even though he was young, he understood the spirit of unfairness in our country. Like Dr. King, Andrew knew taking away someone’s right to vote, or any other civil right, invalidated that person’s dignity and humanity. It was a form of constitutional assassination. To right this wrong, Andy volunteered for Freedom Summer in 1964, along with 1,000 other young adults.

Dr. King achieved fame in life, while my brother became famous only because of his death, as a white northerner murdered by the KKK in Mississippi. But in the end, both their deaths sent the same message. When you stand against a hypocritical power structure, you face grave danger, but also have the power to make great change.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, a new generation of prophets is speaking out to illuminate the inconsistencies between people’s actions and the values they proclaim. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are leading the country in a fight to stop gun violence. For their actions, they have been threatened by some of our citizens. They have been called communists. They have been accused of trying to destabilize the nation. The very same language was used against my brother Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, their fellow civil rights workers and volunteers, and against Dr. King.

It takes courage to stand against the power structure. It is a treacherous job. Those who undertake it risk being marginalized or worse. But it must be done. We cannot have even a semblance of democracy without brave people who advocate for justice and equitable treatment. Dr. King and my brother are gone, but their story is not over.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the legacy of Sojourner Truth. It is the legacy of Frederick Douglass. It is the legacy of all who came before him and those who came after to speak against injustice. It is a legacy that is not yet finished. Dr. King’s legacy carries on in the young people, like the students from Parkland and The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere Ambassadors and Puffin Fellows, who stand up to make sure democracy works.

Left: MLK leads the march from Selma to Montgomery, on March 30, 1965; Right: Vote Everywhere Ambassadors and Staff march in the 2018 Moral March in Raleigh, NC on February 10, 2018

About the Author

David Goodman is the brother of Andrew Goodman, the President of The Andrew Goodman Foundation, and a member of its Board of Trustees.