I was reading newspapers by the time of the Montgomery protests over segregated buses. As I commented there, it's been interesting to see the evolution of his image.
- when he was alive, there were a number of major figures who were competing and cooperating in civil rights. Malcolm X, Stokeley Carmichael, Roger Wilkins, Julian Bond, and many others. In the beginning he was just one voice among many, gradually emerging as the preeminent voice. His competitors did not always welcome his contributions or support his efforts, and vice versa. With his death he became the martyred figure we know today whom no one remembers disliking.
- he had more failures (Albany, GA, and Chicago, among others) than we realize today
[Reagan (and America) created a fable of MLK which included these features:]
The first is the focus on courageous individuals, not movements. The second is the idea that King and figures like Rosa Parks shone a light on injustice, and [said injustice] has since been eradicated. The third is the act of putting the movement and the problem of racism in the past. And the fourth is the idea of American exceptionalism — the belief that the civil rights movement demonstrates the power of American democracy.