IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

After opposition to her MLK Day speech, Nikole Hannah-Jones swapped her words for his

“Oh, the uncomfortable silence as I read Dr. King’s words at a commemoration of Dr. King’s life when people had no idea that these were his words,” she tweeted.
Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses her book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, on Nov. 30, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses her book, "The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story," on Nov. 30, 2021, in Los Angeles.Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

After Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones says she learned some members of an organization voiced their opposition to her making a speech on MLK Day, she used Martin Luther King Jr.’s own words to make a point with the audience. 

A small number of members of the organization, which she did not name, opposed her speaking at the event, calling her a “discredited activist” who is “unworthy of such association with King,” she said. 

So Hannah-Jones scrapped the speech she planned to make and instead strung together excerpts of speeches King made in the 1950s and the 1960s, she tweeted Monday night. Some of the excerpts she recited dealt with issues such as white backlash, redistribution of wealth and military spending.

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power. A nation that continues year after year to spend more $ on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” she tweeted as one of King’s quotes she repeated during the speech.

Hannah-Jones said she replaced words like “Negro” with “Black” in the speech so listeners would not be tipped off that the original words belonged to King before she revealed her source to the audience. 

“Oh, the uncomfortable silence as I read Dr. King’s words at a commemoration of Dr. King’s life when people had no idea that these were his words,” she tweeted. 

Through her work, particularly 'The 1619 Project," published in the New York Times Magazine, Hannah-Jones has long called attention to the racist legacy of slavery in America. Her book “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” which expands on the Times series, was published in November.

In a November interview with Trymaine Lee on the MSNBC podcast "Into America," she said the legacy of slavery is everywhere and it's “constraining our lives.” She also emphasized the importance of the "1619 Project" while concluding her speech on MLK Day.

“This is why the 1619 Project exists,” Hannah-Jones tweeted. “This is why the decades of scholarship that undergirds the 1619 Project exists. Because if we do nothing, they will co-opt our history and use it against us.”

During the speech, she said she presented polling showing that more than three-quarters of Americans opposed King at the time of his assassination in 1968, while 94 percent approved of him in recent years. 

By showing these polling numbers, Hannah-Jones said, people who today oppose what King stood for then “do not get to be the arbiters of his legacy.”

“The real Dr. King cannot be commodified, homogenized, and white-washed,” she tweeted, “and whatever side you stand on TODAY is the side you would have been back then.”

As she concluded her speech, she reminded the audience of King’s legacy and the importance of the meaning behind his words.

“Dr. King was a radical critic of racism, capitalism and militarism,” she tweeted. “He didn’t die. He was assassinated ...  If you haven’t read, in entirety, his speeches, you’ve been miseducated & I hope that you will,” she wrote.

Follow NBCBLK on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.