"The significance of how things are remembered goes beyond historical accuracy to contemporary politics. The past has a legacy and the present has consequences: our understanding of how we got here and why is crucial to our decision about where we go next and how. While Barack Obama was cloaking himself in King's moral authority during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, he was simultaneously contemplating bombing Syria. The version of King that the nation had settled on – "the dreamer" – was in stark contrast to the King who stood against militarism. So the latter was conveniently forgotten.
Such distortions are not the work of malign individuals so much as the benign victory of mythology. "It's not a person [who does this]," the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano explained to me in a recent interview. "It's a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten … We are much more than we are told. We are much more beautiful."