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Historians have posited several theories in an attempt to explain what many regard as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s radical departure, in the late 1960's, from his earlier, liberal framing of civil rights reform. Rather than view his increasingly critical statements against the Vietnam War and the liberal establishment as evidence of a fundamental change in his thinking, a number of scholars have braided the continuity of King's thought within frameworks of democratic socialism and the long civil rights movement, respectively. King's lifelong struggle for racial justice in America, they argue, was rife with broader and more radical implications than that of a national campaign for political inclusion. His message was global, and it was revolutionary. However, when depicting him exclusively in the context of black radicals during “the long civil rights movement,“ or the labor movement, these scholars have a tendency to downplay the most fundamental component of King's activism - his religion. More so than he referenced the brave black leaders of previous civil rights campaigns, King drew upon the writings and ideas of social gospel thinkers, such as Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr. By analyzing King within the context of “the long social gospel movement” in addition to “the long civil rights movement,” we can explain his radical social mission in terms of race and class, but without marginalizing the Christian values at the core of his calling.
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