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7 civil rights activists carrying Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy

Flickr: Minnesota Historical Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

When you consider the racial history of the US, the arc of the moral universe has bent towards justice. One of the most abominable events of humanity--the enslavement of black people--no longer exists.

But this arc has not arrived at justice. There is still a long way to go.

MLK spoke at a time when racism was so vicious and so dehumanizing that water--the very essence of life--could not be publicly shared by black and white people. Water fountains are no longer segregated.

But justice, in this sense, means purging society of racism. It begins with an acknowledgement that racism still suffuses nearly all aspects of US life, even if the overt sharpness of past racism has been dulled in many ways.

No longer are black men and women lynched by frothing mobs. But black men and women who pose no threat are still shot down by the police and then blamed for their death.

No longer does the federal government explicitly demand the ghettoization of black communities. But real estate brokers still tacitly perpetuate segregation.

No longer are black children explicitly barred from good schools. But the educational system is as segregated and financially imbalanced as it has ever been.

This pervasive racism is felt when someone is accused of “playing the race card” when they speak of the influence of history; when a white girl claims black students stole her education through affirmative action because she failed to get into a specific college; when the simple phrase #BlackLivesMatter is challenged by a chorus of #AllLivesMatter; when the Oscars fail to nominate a single actor of color; when people dismiss the idea of cultural appropriation; when the motives of black leaders are relentlessly questioned and spurned.  

Martin Luther King, Jr. will always serve as an icon of fairness and justice. He bent the arc of the moral universe closer to justice. But his mission must be carried on by others.

Today there are new activists who continue to bend the arc, who courageously uphold MLK’s legacy.

There are many, many activists doing powerful, necessary work. For the time being, here are 7:

Johnetta Elzie

It is a national crisis when the only thing that causes police departments to reckon with their murder of black men and women is a nationally-aired video that cannot be silenced.

Murders by police are not new. What is relatively new is the abundance of smartphone-recorded videos of police violence.

For years, Johnetta Elzie has been a prominent activist for black rights. She is one of the leaders of We The Protesters, an organization that oversees rallies around the country, educates people and campaigns for political rights.

Deray McKesson

One of the founders of We The Protesters, Deray McKesson has been organizing protests and advocating for equality for years. He is prominent on Twitter, where he breaks down complex issues and advocates for equal rights.

Check out this video he’s featured in that explains the #BlackLivesMatter movement:

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi

No phrase has become more central to the current civil rights movement than #BlackLivesMatter. It’s a persistent challenge to a society that too often acts as if black lives do not matter. It forces people to consider the ways in which black lives are rejected or denied. It wrenches people out of complacency. It forces conversation. Garza, Cullors and Tometi are the women who created this hashtag and are all advocates for racial fairness throughout society.

Amandla Stenberg

At just 17, Amandla Stenberg--known for her role in The Hunger Games--is the youngest person on this list. Her wisdom suggests a much older mind, but her youth allows her to reach a broad audience. Through social media and Youtube, she breaks apart loaded subjects with clarity and logic.  She is a champion of social justice.


Inequality does not simply fade the way night turns to day. It stays in place and hardens if left unchallenged. That's why millions and billions of people have to stand up and unite in their opposition to inequality. Ending it is and has always been a collective effort. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. He centered his life on the idea of popular uprising and empowerment.

And as MLK said, there is no better time to act than now. 

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there 'is' such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and postive action.”

You can go to TAKE ACTION NOW to help carry on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by calling for justice for all.