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The Troublemaking Founding Fathers

January 24, 2011

During lecture on January 19, 2011 Professor Manty spoke about how many people saw Dr. Martin Luther King as a founding father; he was a leading figure of the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s in the U.S. He rallied across America, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people on the issue of civil rights, reiterating the meaning of justice, freedom, and equality as traits that all Americans were guaranteed by the Constitution. He immortalized this notion in one of his most famous speeches – the “I have a Dream” Speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, where he stated that he dreamed “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This statement, found at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, the creed that the founding fathers of our nation created, established the principles and laws of our nation. Though Dr. King reiterated ideologies espoused by our Founding Fathers, he was sometimes seen as a “troublemaker” for constantly speaking out against the actions that he believed defied the same philosophies of our nations first leaders. He spent time in jail and faced severe criticisms for his decisions to publicize the inequalities that the minority faced through the United States. There were people that believed his actions called for a more gradual approach instead of a full frontal one, that he moved too quickly and America needed time to adjust to the idea of desegregation. Ironically, his movements reflected those of these same men who laid the foundation for our nation. They wasted no words pointing out the hypocrisies of British treatment of the New World colonies regarding lack of representation in Parliament. Similarly, Britons and Americans alike saw them as troublemakers who caused unnecessary problems for the citizens of both countries.

I’d like to point out the parallels between our founding fathers and Dr. King vis a vis troublemaking. Looking at the facts, the men who founded the United States and wrote the Constitution rallied protests such as the Boston Tea Party to demonstrate their grievances against British oppression. Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was a founder of the Civil Rights Movement, which created all sorts of problems in America, including peaceful protests and deadly incidents caused by those who opposed him. Fighting for freedom

If the founding fathers of our nation had waited for Americans to adjust to the idea of an independent nation, and hadn’t revolted against the British over 200 years ago, where would our nation be today? Similarly, where would our society be today if Dr. King hadn’t led the civil rights movement? Dr. King represented personified a modern day founding father. Just as the founding fathers took action against their oppressors, he publicly contested and led protests against The Establishment’s accepted racial inequalities in the United States. Like the founding fathers, he knew he could be killed for his beliefs; especially once he publically challenged the powerful social and political institutions that propagated and cultivated racial inequality. Similarly to the Founding Fathers, in spite of overwhelming odds, he courageously spoke for changing the status quo which evolved society for the better.



  1. Ronald Inglehart permalink
    January 24, 2011 11:14 AM


    I like what you’re saying. You raise a good point here, that perhaps “Founding Father” and “Troublemaker” are less different than the lecture made them seem. Perhaps they really are two ends of a spectrum – the spectrum of how reformers/”radicals” are viewed. If successful in their goals, a reformer might gradually be incorporated into the national myth, so that in the end someone who was once viewed as dangerously radical might in the end come to be viewed as being, if you’ll excuse the use of a cliche, more or less as American as apple pie.

    It’s certainly interesting to consider how this phenomenon might operate in the future. Thanks for bringing this up.

  2. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 24, 2011 2:15 PM

    King and our actual Constitutional framers certainly had a lot in common, which is probably why Professor Lavaque-Manty offered up the idea that MLK could be considered a “founding father”. I also think Founding Father and troublemaker are rather similar, but I think the professor made it pretty clear that the two interpretations of MLK certainly had some overlap. I also agree with you, Ronald, in that the victors write history books and control the narrative- had Strom Thurmond succeeded in his blocking of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had the South won the Civil War, heck, had Britain persevered in either of the two wars against America- the historical narrative would look quite different. So those who may have once been viewed as dangerously radical, given political or social victories, could perhaps later be called a reformer.

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