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Martin Luther King Jr.: Continuing the Dream

Susan Englander
Associate Director, Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute
Friday, April 4, 2008 2:30 PM

On the 40th anniversary of his assassination, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered Friday in the city where he died as a man who came to Memphis "to lead us to a better way." Presidential candidates, civil rights leaders, labor activists and thousands of citizens were coming together to honor King for his devotion to racial equality and economic justice.

"Dr. King died in Memphis during a sanitation strike, speaking out for the right of these African American workers to a decent wage and human dignity. These were recurrent themes during his whole life. He would not only want us to remember this event and his contribution to it but to continue his work though our own lives and actions," said Susan Englander, associate director of the Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute in Calif., in an interview with washingtonpost.com.

She was online Friday, April 4, at 2:15 p.m. ET to discuss the work of Martin Luther King and what is being done today to further his mission.

A transcript follows.

A transcript follows.

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Susan Englander: Hello, I am Susan Englander, as associate director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. I look forward to your questions.

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Fairfax, Va.: What do you think Martin Luther King would want people to do today to continue his mission, what he was working toward? Are people these days active in the cause?

Susan Englander: Dr. King was most concerned that individuals pursue social justice nonviolently. He would rejoice that many are seeking to create equal opportunity and a world without war. Julian Bond, the head of the NAACP and one of Dr. King's followers, is a very good example of someone who is carrying on the movement. Mostly, he saw that social movements, many ordinary individuals acting together, can be the best way.

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Washington, D.C.: What does the Institute do?

Susan Englander: We were founded in 1985 at the request of Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's wife, to publish his most significant writings and speeches and have produced six volumes of this material. We also create curricula for school classes, assist people with research and questions about Dr. King, and help identify the many activists with Dr. King who are largely unknown. They were and are the movement.

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Arlington, Va.: It seems like the fight for Civil Rights is more or less over, at least with respect to African Americans and whites. If Dr. King were alive today, how do you think he would assess the current state of race relations? Would he see "the Dream" as having been achieved? Especially in light of Obama's potential run for the White House?

Susan Englander: Dr. King would still be very active in gaining economic equality for all Americans and in fighting the continued segregation in the nation's cities and schools. The Dream is very much still in progress.

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Chantilly, Va.: What would Martin Luther King think about the election with two minorities running for president: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Susan Englander: He would regard this as a great step, as evidence that African Americans and all women have a greater voice in the nation's affairs.

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Washington, D.C.: Who do you consider the main civil rights leaders in the country today?

Susan Englander: While there are currently men and women in leadership positions who are recognizable to us, there are also many others at the local level who are doing the real work of civil rights. They are the on-the-ground activists and Dr. King treasured them. We should also.

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Annapolis, Md.:

What would Martin Luther King be doing today if he were still alive? Would he be involved in politics and the current election?

Susan Englander: Dr. King did not become involved in electoral politics, did not endorse candidates or consider running for public office. For him political activity involved direct nonviolent action such as marches, boycotts, and sit-ins. I believe that he would still pursue these ways of being politically active. And he would be an active preacher.

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Franconia, Va.: Can you comment on the fact that Senator Obama chose to observe this sad anniversary in Indiana, where Bobby Kennedy spoke that night, rather than Memphis, where both McCain and Clinton chose to travel? I'm not sure how I feel about that and would like your perspective. (But I am glad all three made it a centerpiece of their day one way or another.)

Susan Englander: People all over the country are commemorating Dr. King's life today. Indiana is just as relevant a place to be as Memphis, I believe. I am also glad that this day is a special one for so many.

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McLean, Va.: Who in the King family now is considered the main person to speak about Dr. King?

Susan Englander: There really is no one spokesperson. King's children Dexter, Martin III, and Bernice, and his sister Christine continues to be active and to make public statements on Dr. King.

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Arlington, Va.: What activites are planned there at the Institute in California today/tonight?

Susan Englander: Right now, at Stanford's Old Union Courtyard, we are co-sponsoring "Drum Major for Peace and Justice" with Stanford's Religious Life Office, an event of music and spoken word in his memory. He would have enjoyed such a commemoration.

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Anonymous: What do you think Martin Luther King would say in reaction to what Rev. Jeremiah Wright said in his church?

Susan Englander: Dr. King and Rev. Wright preached as social gospel ministers, ones who spoke out boldly and directly about injustice. I believe that, like Dr. King, Rev. Wright has said things that may be unpopular or uncomfortable, but he speaks from his own truth. Dr. King always welcomed a discussion of the ideas that he gave from the pulpit.

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Susan Englander: Thank you all for this opportunity to speak about Dr. King's life and his work. This is what we do here at the King Institute - keep the legacy alive. Please visit us on the web at www.kinginstitute.info and continue to make Dr. King's dream a reality!

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