Main content

Emory Law News Center


How would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. address injustice in present America?

Emory University School of Law |
Martin Luther King Jr.
Public domain photo courtesy of New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

Today, as we commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, I invite us to reflect on how our actions, reactions, or inaction square with his ideals. As lawyers, our overarching goal is to seek justice, especially when rancor, intolerance, or prejudice obstruct it. So, how would Dr. King define justice?

Dr. King sought to fight the “Triple Evils” of poverty, racism, and militarism through nonviolent social change. He pushed for equal access to things he viewed as basic human rights: adequate income, food, shelter, education, and health care. The King Center, where our alumna Dr. Bernice A. King 90L 90T serves as CEO, continues to carry on this important work.

In 1966, Dr. King said: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” With Dr. King’s challenge in mind, I invite you to this year’s MLK Jr. Lecture, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Vision of Health and Justice,” which will be held this Thursday evening, January 23, in Tull Auditorium, at 6 p.m. Our speaker is Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

“Health inequities are structured by the intersection of poverty and racism,” Roberts has written. Professor Roberts’ work focuses on health, social justice, and bioethics. Her books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011); Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002); and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997). She has published more than 100 articles and book chapters and is the co-editor of other major books relating to constitutional law, women and the law, and other topics. She is a highly sought-after lecturer and commentator on issues ranging from health care inequality to the use of reproductive technologies. She graduated from Yale College, magna cum laude, and received her JD from Harvard Law School.

Dr. Martin Luther King made his call to address injustice in health more than fifty years ago. Yet the issues he identified remain central to our debates about justice in the context of health care. While undoubtedly an optimist, Dr. King was also a realist. I’ll leave you with one last quote from him: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” We invite you to participate in this year’s MLK Jr. Lecture to learn more.

Mary Anne Bobinski/p>

Dean and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law

Emory University School of Law