Texas Tech University

Hope for Change: King's Legacy of Peace and Optimism Remains Critical for Americans

Heidi Toth

April 1, 2015

Texas Tech expert available to discuss MLK legacy.

As the United States approaches the 47th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4), Karlos Hill, a Texas Tech University history professor who specializes in African-American history, says King's legacy remains as relevant to the issues of today as they were 50 years ago, both for today's activists and today's society.

King introduced non-violent civil disobedience as a method of broadcasting the injustices in society, which, although less popular in the age of social media, remains one of the most effective forms of protest. His other legacy, outside of King's belief for equality, was his belief that people and society are capable of change.

Karlos Hill, assistant professor of history, (806) 742-3744 or karlos.hill@ttu.edu

Talking Points

  • The new civil rights movement focuses less on the overall experience of black Americans and more on police brutality and mass incarceration, which disproportionately affect non-whites. Although these were issues in the 1960s, desegregation was a more salient issue. King was trying to essentially make America open to blacks and other people of color.
  • King's non-violent civil disobedience is an excellent model for activists today. Many see social media and online petitions as forms of activism, which they are, but they rarely are sufficient to inspire widespread societal change. King's protests dramatically emphasized the ills in society in a way social media does not. This is one of King's most important legacies.
  • King was an activist because he believed society could change. While much of his optimistic view rested on his Christian beliefs, he still led the way for those of differing belief systems to develop a spirit of change.


  • “Today we take for granted that there will be equal access to education, employment and other institutions. In terms of what's most salient today, it's the police brutality, it's the mass incarceration.”
  • “He believed in non-violent civil disobedience because it was rooted in the notion of Christian brotherhood. He believed in it because he believed it was the best way for oppressed people to make known their grievances. His record of activism and success illustrate how it can be very successful.”
  • “In general, King's life was all about forcing society to confront its ugly side – its racism, its sexism, its militarism. He had the audacity to believe he and other activists, and the American population, would force society to change by making it confront its ugly side.”
  • “King had this very deep belief that society and institutions, no matter how insurmountable it seemed, could change. That optimism that drove King is something we can really learn from.”
  • “King's life is an example of how things can change if you simply decide that enough is enough and you confront society's ills head-on.”

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