According to Martin Luther King, Jr, race, and social policy expert, Wornie Reed, King has been “whitewashed” and “would be very disappointed” with America’s progress on poverty.

Reed met King during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and joined him on the 1963 March on Washington. He also saw King speak over 30 times, marched following his assassination in Memphis and attended his funeral in Atlanta.

Reed emphasizes “what people know about King today was not the King I knew.”

Q&A of interview with Reed below. Also watch interview clips here:

About Reed

Wornie Reed is the Director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech. He was also recently interviewed by HuffPost - 5 ways you can do justice to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy today. (Full bio here.)

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Reed offered these reflections ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination on April 4.

Q: What are some things most people misunderstand about MLK?

A: “In 1966, two years before he was assassinated Martin Luther King had a 28 percent favorability rating among whites in this country. Two decades later he had a 74-78 percent favorability rating, so why the change? ... One of the changes was that King had been whitewashed. What people know about King today was not the King I knew, and to a large extent”

“For example many people think of King as a peacemaker. I have heard Martin Luther King preach or speak at least 35-40 times and only once did I hear him advocate peace. And that was advocating for peace during the Vietnam War. Other than that, he was responding to people who would say ‘when will we have peace?’... And he would say... ‘Peace is not the absence of tension but peace is the presence of justice, and then he would go on to say without justice, there will be no peace.’”

“If you do a Google search on him and peace, you will come up with those connections millions of times, more than anything else, and that is not what he was. Martin Luther King went to prison 30 times. That is not a peacemaker.” Watch:

Q: If MLK were alive today, what would he think? What would be different?

A: “Martin Luther King would be very disappointed, because the poverty rate for children is higher than when he put his life on the line for it.”

“I study in my center now employment and employment discrimination and there has been almost no change in the amount of employment discrimination since King was killed. He would be concerned that a white man with a felony record is twice a likely to be hired
as a black man with no criminal record. And it just goes on and on and on. So actually in many instances things are no better or may be worse. And people are going around and saying they are better.”

“There are a lot of myths going around ... and King would not let us pursue those myths.”

“Many years ago Martin luther King would answer people who would say ...  reverend King we can’t legislate morality and he would say we ‘are not asking for the government to make my neighbor love me, we are asking the government to keep my neighbor from killing me.’ So King was dealing with real issues, not the symbolic stuff that people talk about today.” Watch:

Q: Describe the moment you found out MLK had been assassinated?

A: “That was a sad time. It was the day before my birthday ... I must say that the reason I was probably a little upset was that I thought that most of the probabilities that he would be killed, had diminished.”   

“The next morning I flew to Memphis. And as we did what we did during those times. We marched ... That evening I flew from there to Atlanta and I attended the funeral of Martin Luther King and it was a sad time ... but then we figured we had to get over it and do what he asked us to do.” Watch:

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