For some reason — and that reason is the whitewashing of history — many people treat Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the “I have a Black friend” holiday. ‘Tis the season to invoke MLK’s authority to support some position that everyone else in the audience knows damn well he wouldn’t be in favor of, like that one time a White & Case partner used the memory of MLK to bash the most recent Black civil rights movement. Even the FBI participates in the inanity; thankfully, they usually get called out on it:
Unfortunately, Biglaw firms usually get a pass when they do it. Sure, they probably didn’t have as much in a hand in MLK’s assassination as the FBI did, but you can be damn sure that King would have been a thorn in their side if he knew the work they were up to. Because there is more to King’s legacy than the “content of their character” snippet conservatives like to throw around whenever DEI is mentioned. He had non-violence and racial equity as core tenets of his philosophy, and it is jarring to know that and see who is out there singing his praises. For example:
Kirkland is of course the former home of Paul Clement, lawyer extraordinaire who was one of the masterminds behind turning gun ownership into a personal right. I’m pretty sure that MLK’s urgent question to Kirkland at that moment would have been, “What are you doing to prevent others from getting easier access to deadly firearms?” Of course, this is all speculation considering that King was you know… shot to death. Kirkland eventually went on to clean up their act and cut the gun lawyers from their team, but the moving force there was a lot more “let’s get rid of the bad PR farm” rather than a commitment to non-violence.
Blink twice if you need help with clarifying which of King’s philosophies you’re in support of. Perkins Coie’s milquetoast tribute to King reads like it was went over with a fine-toothed comb to make sure nothing could lead to them being sued by Blum again.
Winston & Strawn gets credit for marrying their words with an act of service:
…but still ends up with a failing grade when you factor in representing Wells Fargo once it got out that they were charging minorities higher fees and putting them on subprime loans. That isn’t the “radial economic redistribution” King was advocating for. And while it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “We aren’t the actual bad guys, we’re just doing the busy work for them!” Have you not read Letter From A Birmingham Jail?:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
And the one that would have ruffled the most feathers today? He would have had a sermon for any and all of the firms that immediately responded to the October 7th attack with Israel’s right to self defense rather than advocating for non-violent means of reconciliation. Again, it is hard to know what King’s exact response would have been given the FBI, but if he made it to 95, he very probably would have been advocating for food, water, and a ceasefire. This was his thinking in Beyond Vietnam – A Time To Break The Silence:
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954;1 and I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
All I ask is for honesty. Moving forward, just own that your relationship to MLK’s legacy is a lot less “Honoring the Life and Legacy” and a lot more Charlie Kirk:
Beyond Vietnam – A Time To Break The Silence [American Rhetoric]
Letter From A Birmingham Jail [UPenn]
BigLaw Is Making America’s Gun Violence Crisis Worse [Balls and Strikes]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.