Today marks a birthday of a man whose life should be thankfully celebrated. How little I appreciated that fact when I was much younger. I grew up during the time of the emergence of civil rights, or what really should be called human rights. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be a person taught with respect and overall understanding and context of how much he accomplished in a short period of time amidst adverse circumstances and controversy.
There were other great leaders before him who understood the barbarism of slavery, lack of opportunity through segregation, exclusion of fundamental human rights in racism and the lack of a voice in elections. Frederick Douglass, Booker Taliaferro Washington, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, are among the many who preceded Dr. King. Their work notwithstanding, none of them were able to achieve as much as quickly as Dr. King did in gaining fundamental rights which were supposedly guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
No person’s life when examined in fine detail is perfect but upon reviewing Dr King’s life, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by his accomplishments. As an example, young Martin starts college at 15 and receives a bachelor’s degree while still a teenager. He received his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 3 more years and his Doctorate by 26. Many years later, patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution indicated he plagiarized the words of others in his Doctorate dissertation. None the less, his life’s work when examined with adequate thought and balance demonstrates he used the tools available to him to advance a cause long overdue. That cause ennobled a group which deserved its rightful place of humanity.
King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old having married just one year before. This placed him in the middle of a growing storm of dissatisfaction with African-Americans being treated as if they were inhuman or in some cases vermin.
When an 18-year-old Montgomery Alabama resident Mary Louise Smith was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger, the seeds of involvement in a greater struggle were sown. Martin King was only 15 when he gave a speech on “The Negro and the Constitution”. Clearly at a young age, he realized that action was required to rectify the huge moral gap between the promises of the Constitution and the Emancipation proclamation with how African-Americans had to live their lives. Joseph Lowrey, John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, Fred Shuttlesworth, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Josea Williams and Ella Baker were among the many people who aided Dr. King in the struggle for civil rights.
The remarkable aspect of how he peacefully proceeded with the leadership of that struggle, through physical threats, bombings, arrests, beatings, illegal and false investigations by the FBI, are all part of the amazing aspects of his less than 40 years on this earth.
“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
- Celebrate Martin Luther King’s 84th Birthday in Service to Others (atlantablackstar.com)
- Previously Unreleased Interviews with The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (wnyc.org)
- Happy Birthday To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! (newsone.com)
- Photos: Martin Luther King: A Life in Pictures (abcnews.go.com)