As Martin Luther King Jr. saw it, three forces surreptitiously hold back social justice. They are the myth of time, the myth of the heart and the myth of the “bootstrap philosophy.”
The first makes people believe that things get better naturally with time and leads them to complacency. The second suggests that positive change must occur within people’s hearts and not, as is really necessary, within the codes of law. And the last supports the false notion that the oppressed can pull themselves out of oppression if they simply try harder. The illustrious civil rights leader—and grandson of slaves and sharecroppers—felt that the progress the nation had achieved was threatened by these misbeliefs, which created a “dangerous optimism” among those dreaming of true equality for all.
Fifty years have passed since King’s appearance in Buffalo, organized by the UB Graduate Student Association and held just five months before his assassination, during a time of burning churches, raging riots and an escalating war that he opposed. Still, his closing words to the audience of more than 2,000 students, faculty, staff and community members at Kleinhans Music Hall that night were steadfast, even hopeful, and met with a standing ovation.
“I haven’t lost faith, even though the days ahead are still difficult, and the problems are very real, and the moments are very frustrating,” King said. “I will not yield to the politics of despair. Our goal is freedom, and I still believe that, somehow, we’ll get there.”