ATLANTA (AP) - Tyrone Brooks was 22 years old and 400 miles away, seeking clues to an unsolved lynching as old as he was, when he got the news that Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. Stunned, Brooks dropped everything and drove to Memphis, crying all the way.
The next day, King’s closest confidant, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, told Brooks: “Tighten your belts and dry your tears. If you love Martin Luther King as you say you do, help me carry on his work.”
The members of King’s tight circle barely paused to grieve. They plunged into carrying out his unfinished work, and turned it into a lifelong vow.
Some went into politics. A few continued to serve the organization that King led or started their own. Others returned to the pulpit, preaching a gospel of racial liberation.
And the King legacy continues, evident today in a new generation protesting many of the same issues King confronted : inequality, police brutality and poverty.
“Legally, segregation was outlawed, but we still face a danger in public space,” said Bree Newsome, who climbed a pole to snatch down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in 2015. “In that way, I absolutely feel that what we’re doing is continuing in the legacy of Martin Luther King.”
Even so, the problems persist. A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only 1 in 10 African Americans think the United States has achieved all or most of the goals of the civil rights movement. Among whites, only 35 percent believe those goals have been at least mostly achieved.
“A lot of people across the country see injustice or inequality as unfortunate, almost like a car accident, instead of unjust and something they have to do something about,” said Rashad Robinson, 39, who uses King’s example as a guide in his work as executive director of the online civil rights group Color of Change. “People talk a lot about empathy, but King was really building power. Power is the ability to change the rules, and Dr. King was all about changing the rules.”
Jesse Jackson parlayed his service at King’s side into a blend of grassroots activism and elective politics.