In Remembrance – Martin Luther King, Jr.

dr-martin-luther-king-jr-w-james-taylor

Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important political and social figures of the 20th century.  King was born Michael Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia.  He later changed his name to Martin and started a successful career as a pastor with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

King is most closely associated with the modern civil rights movement, but that was a task with no easy beginning and a blatantly violent end.  In 1957, as Southern Negroes began to clamor for more freedom and equality, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed primarily to provide leadership for fledgling civil rights activities.  King adapted Christian ideals to the structure of the SCLC and followed the mantra of India’s Mahatma Gandhi who preached non-violent and peaceful resistance to achieve equality.

Before King could convince White Americans that entrenched racism was morally and constitutionally wrong, however, he had to convince Black Americans – especially Black Southerners – to brave uncharted territory.  It seems almost ludicrous now, but King had to rally Black Americans to rise up and protest against the institutional bigotry that ruled their lives.  They had maintained a tremulous existence for decades; one they obviously didn’t like, but a life they generally felt powerless to do anything about.  There were no anti-discrimination laws to protect someone against the White male aristocracy that ruled America with an iron fist.  Women and non-White men had to be prompted to risk everything to demand the nation hold true to its constitutional values of freedom and justice.

From 1957 until his death, King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times against social injustices towards Black Americans.  Other groups, such as Hispanics and Native Americans, took their queues for action from King.  His 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was seminal to the Black civil rights movement.  It won him the Nobel Peace Prize; making him the youngest man ever to be awarded that honor.

I guess it was destiny that he would not live to see much of his dreams come to fruition.  He was gunned down on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, while doing what he did best – speaking out against discrimination and oppression.

His memory still lives, though – vibrant and strong.  The battle for justice and human dignity continues.

Image courtesy W. James Taylor.

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