San Antonio professor speaks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s less told legacies

Professor pushed for African American studies course now offered in Texas schools

SAN ANTONIO – We’ve all heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, protesting for civil rights. What’s often less spoken about is King’s fight for better wages for underpaid factory workers in Atlanta and his Vietnam War protest.

While well-revered today, there was a time King was not well-liked by the majority.

“We posthumously romanticize (King) now,” said Dr. Lawrence Scott, assistant professor of educational leadership at Texas A&M San Antonio.

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“At the time near his death, they did a Gallup poll in 1960. He had a 30% popularity rate. So right now, of course, it’s in the high ’90s,” Scott said.

Scott said that, in addition to influencing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which removed barriers blocking African Americans’ right to vote, King took on other charges that received pushback.

“For instance, in 1964, he’s fighting for the Atlanta Scripto Pen factory. Some of the workers -- he was fighting for better wages for them. Or in 1966, he did the open housing campaign again to eradicate redlining and integrate neighborhoods,” Scott said.

One of King’s most significant endeavors to receive broad opposition was protesting the Vietnam War.

“He was saying, how are we sending our young Black men 8,000 miles to liberate South East Asians? But then they come home to Georgia and East Harlem, and they still face some of the marginalization and inequities,” Scott said.

Making sure often untold and crucial details about African American history are taught is part of the reason why Scott and members of the nonprofit Community for Life Foundation testified before the Texas State School Board, pushing for a statewide African-American studies course.

“What I’ve learned is when students do not see themselves in the curriculum, they are not engaged,” Scott said.

In April 2020, the board unanimously approved the course as an elective for Texas schools. Some have already adopted it in our area.

“Right now, we have three districts that opted in. We have San Antonio ISD, we have Judson ISD, and then Northeast (ISD),” Scott said.

Scott says he is continuing King’s mission to make sure equality and equity extends to education.

About the Authors

Deven Clarke is the crime and justice reporter for KSAT12.

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