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JSPES, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Fall 2003 )
pp. 325-353

Understanding America: The Martin Luther King Myth

Dwight D. Murphey

More than forty years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. King has long-since become enshrined within America's conventional wisdom as one of the preeminent leaders in the country's history. To understand America's idealization of King, a number of questions are worth exploring about this consensus, now that several years have passed. Is the consensus voluntarily undertaken by the American public? Is the myth based on an accurate depiction of the man and his actions? And what does the existence of the King myth and its powerful hold on American life tell us about American society and the workings of democracy?