This article examines how Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement with which he is often synonymous are taught in UK schools, as well as the consequences of that teaching for twenty-first-century understandings of Britain's racial past and present. The UK's King-centric approach to teaching the civil rights movement has much in common with that in the US, including an inattention to its transnational coordinates. However, these shared (mis)representations have different histories, are deployed to different ends, and have different consequences. In the UK, study of the African American freedom struggle often happens in the absence of, and almost as a surrogate for, engagement with the histories of Britain's own racial minorities and imperial past. In short, emphasis on the apparent singularity of US race relations and the achievements of the mid-twentieth-century African American freedom struggle facilitates cultural amnesia regarding the historic and continuing significance of race and racism in the UK. In light of the Windrush scandal and the damning 2018 Royal Historical Society report on “Race, Ethnicity and Equality in UK History,” this article argues both for better, more nuanced and more relevant teaching of King and the freedom struggle in British schools, and for much greater attention to black British history in its own right.
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