“I want young men and young women who are not alive today to know and see that these new privileges and opportunities did not come without somebody suffering and sacrificing for them.” 

attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the beginning of an episode of “The Boondocks” 

“Have you seen this?” my radio co-host asks during a break, flipping his phone’s face towards me. 

“Who’s that?” I ask, squinting, “Where is that?” 

“It’s a new statue in downtown Montgomery. People online are saying it looks like Danny Glover.” 

Gesturing for him to hand me his phone, I peer closely at the photo, trying to recognize the sculpted figure.  

It certainly does look like Danny Glover. 

Yes, Danny Glover, the star from movies such as “Lethal Weapon” and “The Color Purple”though I will always personally remember him from my childhood for his starring roles in movies such as “Angels in the Outfield” and “Operation Dumbo Drop.”  

Isn’t it funny how icons are remembered differently in each person’s memory? Our impressions of larger-than-life figures tend towards the idiosyncratic rather than the canonical, especially now in our tumultuous age of social media. No official narrative, political or religious, is sacred enough to be spared our real-time scrutiny online. We’re all looking at the same screens, but we’re definitely not watching the same show, let alone the same episodes. 

“It can’t be Danny Glover,” I say to my co-host, “Why would Montgomery put up a statue of Danny Glover? Who is it supposed to be?” 

“Martin Luther King Jr.” 

I’m not sure what it is about MLK statues that invite controversy, but I suspect it has something to do with everyone’s own personal impression of the civil rights icon.  

Of course, Boston’s memorial to Dr. King, a 20-foot-tall bronze sculpture, “The Embrace,” was brutally mocked upon its unveiling. Instead of capturing an iconic hug between husband and wife, many commentators were enraptured with laughter by how much the massive memorial reminded them of genitals and various sex acts.  

Then there’s the 30-foot-tall national monument to King in Washington D.C., “Stone of Hope,” which caused quite a stir even before completion. When a Chinese sculptor was picked to erect the massive granite sculpture, outrage ensued over design and political concerns. MLK looked too Chinese. The sculptor, who made statements at the time seeming to defend Mao, also used unpaid Chinese labor to craft the $110 million monument in Virginia. 

The controversy continued after the monument’s unveiling in 2011, as a poorly truncated quote attributed to King was eventually struck from the monument’s side in 2013. Ten years later, despite changes to earlier designs, “Stone of Hope” still looks more like Mao than MLK to me.  

“Whatever they say,” I tell my co-host, handing him back his phone, “that ain’t MLK.” 

“Apparently, it’s supposed to be him if he was still alive today.” 

“Ah, well, then that’s different. Gotta love counterfactuals. At least they make you think.”  

Indeed, an entire corpus of art and literature has been derived from the question, “What would so-and-so think and say of us today?”  

Stare at any memorial long enough and you will begin to ask variations on the theme.  

What would George Washington think? What would Thomas Jefferson say? What would Abraham Lincoln, or even Robert E. Lee, think of us today?  

Speculations on what King may think or say are especially prevalent in today's politics. The arguments over MLK’s legacy abound, especially claims to his moral authority, the political equivalent of solid gold. 

“Every Martin Luther King Day, there are a predictable series of articles claiming that Dr. King was really a ‘radical’ ––especially towards the end of his life,” writes Coleman Hughes. “The subtext of these articles is that if Dr. King were alive today he would support the policies and the rhetoric advanced by today’s ‘anti-racist’ radicals––people like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. King’s legacy, they argue, has been sanitized, co-opted, and weaponized by conservatives and moderates.” 

Hughes continues: 

This argument relies on a bait and switch. The areas in which Dr. King could rightly be called a ‘radical’ were two-fold: economics and foreign policy. He favored policies like universal healthcare and guaranteed federal employment, and he strongly opposed the Vietnam War––positions that were considered radical in the 1960s.  

Whatever you think of those positions, neither of them pertain to the topics on which he is alleged by modern commentators to have been a ‘radical’––namely, the importance of our common humanity and the goal of transcending race. 


If it strikes you as odd that today’s ‘anti-racists’ sound nothing like Dr. King yet claim his mantle, it should. They do not carry his mantle. They enjoy the moral authority of being seen as the carriers of his legacy while simultaneously betraying the very ideals that he stood for. 

That’s just a taste of the arguments over King’s legacy, but to Hughes’ point, most contemporary claims made about MLK are naked and shallow, often lacking nuance and art.  

Such naked shallowness is not true of The Boondocks episode, “Return of the King.”  

This scathing, award-winning satire may very well be the definitive treatment of the question, “What if MLK was alive today?”  

A “man out of time” story, it is less a memorial to the past and more an unsparing mirror for the present. The plot and commentary, penned by Aaron McGruder, deftly dissect early 21st century America, with MLK as the scalpel.  

I will not attempt to characterize the episode any further, as it speaks for itself and should simply be watched. Maybe, if there’s ever a live-action reproduction, Danny Glover should portray MLK.  

Until that day comes, you’ll just have to visit downtown Montgomery to see Glover cast as an elderly King. Upon visiting, you can laugh, cry, reflect, argue, or sing. But whatever you do, when it comes to the suffering and sacrifice of the past, never just shrug and say, “Whatever....”

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email joeyclarklive@gmail.com. Follow him on X @TheJoeyClark or watch the radio show livestream.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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