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This Journalist Gave a Fiery Speech Criticizing ‘White Americans’ — Then Revealed They Were MLK’s Words

After being invited to give a speech for MLK Day at the UW-Madison campus, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones found out that some members of the group who invited her opposed to her appearance, claiming that her work on The 1619 Project and more didn’t represent the views of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Upon learning of that opposition, Hannah-Jones took matters into her own hands to teach a lesson to her audience. At the last minute, she ditched the speech she planned to give and meshed together King’s own words from addresses he gave between 1956 and 1967 — without letting her audience know upfront that it was his words, and not her own, she would be reading.

Hannah-Jones revealed in a Twitter thread that she found out about the opposition to her appearance in leaked emails that called her a “discredited activist” and “unworthy of such association with King.” By taking his words and “leading the audience to think King’s words were mine,” Hannah-Jones reports her words had an “amazing” effect on the audience. The New York Times writer also noted that she took out the word “Negro” and subbed the word “Black” where necessary so attendees wouldn’t be clued into the fact that the quotes were not from her — they were from King himself.

The journalist shared important passages from King’s words, including, “The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there. The white backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that has characterized America ever since the black man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.”

She admitted that there was “uncomfortable silence” in the audience as she gave the speech until the crucial moment she shared that they had been listening to the thoughts and ideas of the activist from over 60 years ago. Hannah-Jones reminded them that, while he was alive, he was labeled a “charlatan, demagogue, communist, traitor” and that “three-quarters of Americans opposed King at his death.”

Hannah-Jones wanted to make sure they understood that “people who oppose today what he stood for back then do not get to be the arbiters of his legacy” because “the real Dr. King cannot be commodified, homogenized, and white-washed and whatever side you stand on TODAY is the side you would have been back then.”

It’s a powerful lesson and the exact reason why she created The 1619 project, which, per the New York Times, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”

The journalist ended the thread by reminding her Twitter followers that his speeches deserve to be read again and understood through an educated, not “miseducated” lens. Hannah-Jones summed up with one final tweet to drive the point home about King’s legacy: “Dr. King was a radical critic of racism, capitalism and militarism. He didn’t die. He was assassinated.”

Before you go, click here to see celebrity women of color share the first movie or TV character who made them feel seen.

Diana Ross

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