Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as the most influential African in American history. He was a clerygman who became leader of the civil rights movement, won a Nobel Peace prize, and in 1983 received an honor not even an American of white descent received, he had a national holiday named after him. Clearly, Martin Luther King Jr. seems lifelike in these honours bestowed upon him. So, what special strengths did he possess that allowed him to make a difference. Unlike other revolutionary leaders who used force and violence to achieve their means, Martin Luther King used his exceptional speaking ability to arouse crowds and, get people's attention through innovative ways such as boycotts and protests. He was the conscious of a generation. Martin Luther King Jr. was a human rights crusader, a courageous black leader, and an uncompromising moral leader. Today, Martin Luther King is an icon for human rights and proved one man can make a difference.

He practiced equality with whites by forming alliances with northern whites mostly jewish human right activists. He stated. "A doctrine of black supremacy is as evil as a doctrine in white supremacy".

On August 28, 1963 he led the March on Washington where he delivered his famed "I have a dream" speech to 200, 000+ protesters. The words were so moving that former President Clinton remembered the 16 minute entire speech. Here are a few excerpts:

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not sallow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers."

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Dr. King had a very philosophic lookout on life and used his based ideas to reflect on the larger issue of racial segregation. This is from a paper entitled, "On Being a Good Neighbor".

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life."

In Birmingham 1963 the protest included children. This was a graphic protest where the police used high-pressure hoses and attack dogs. The images of children pinned against the wall and running away from dogs were broadcast around the world and gained sympathy for the movement. King was arrested and wrote "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"

"Let us hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty."

Martin Luther King had a long list of accomplishements that proved that his stirring speeches did make a difference. Chief among them was the Civil Rights Act (1964), that prohibited segregation and discrimination in public places and umemployment. This accomplished helped him win the Nobel peace prize. Under Lyndon Johnson, the Voting Rights Act (1965), "Abandoned literacy and other tests that prevented black from voting"

On April 3, 1968 his "I've been to the mountain top" speech was one of the most moving of his life.

"I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountain top. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land"

The next day on April 4, 1968 James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. News of his death spread across America as there were riots in over a hundred cities. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was one of the first to comment on his death:

"In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence their evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization -- black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times."

Two months later Robert Kennedy was also killed. In 1983 Congress approved the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

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Updated: April 23, 2008
Created: February 7, 2005
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