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Martin Luther King, Jr., a doer, not a dreamer | Race-Talk | 282

Martin Luther King, Jr., a doer, not a dreamer

Filed under: African Americans,Racial Equity,Talk About Race |

Martin Luther King, Jr.An esssay on the life of a remarkable leader.

Phoenix, Arizona. January 16, 2011 - The creation of a national holiday to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., gives us an idea of the proportion of the historical importance and the achievements of this man, who has come to be a transcendent symbol not only of the dreams and hopes of African-Americans, but also of other people in the world.

The impact of his work, within the context of the civil rights movement of the mid XX century, is such that even to this date “most renowned scholars still have not determined what that impact is or finally will be.”

Martin Luther King was an exceptional, articulated voice that gave the movement a strong direction, a moral definition, and a great grade of accomplishment. This voice came out of the mainstream of the Black-American tradition of protest against injustice, segregation and bigotry. King was neither the first nor the only voice of the struggle for racial equality, but his message, delivered with his unique personality, provided the movement with its best representative of the people in this last century, arguably of all American history.

His quality and internal spiritual power to withstand hardship, his moral character –now challenged by evidence of extramarital affairs– and his religious background, produced in him a necessary and special ability to distinguish the difference between justice and injustice. He knew, since the beginning, that the movement was not an unfounded revolt, but an inescapable appointment with history, a true social revolution that was about to transform the national conscience of America.

King’s philosophy of action was a true reflection of his Christian beliefs, theorized by his ecclesiastical and family background, and actualized by the extreme pressure that he faced in the first weeks of his leadership with the movement. His education, secular and theological, placed him on a platform of a deep understanding and knowledge of social issues, which uplifted him above the average thinking of his times. This also enabled him to shake the nation’s conscience, by putting in front of America’s face a mirror that confronted her with the ugliness of racism and segregation.

When he unexpectedly appeared in the historical context of America, and within the frame work of the black struggle for freedom and equal rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a young Christian minister, pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama, “he soon emerged as the preeminent spokesman… He was an impressive figure and an inspiring speaker.” The “Rosa Parks’ incident,” catapulted him into the leadership of the just formed “Montgomery Improvement Association,” created to direct and organize the bus boycott in Alabama in 1955, against the segregated system of transportation.

Mrs. Parks, a well respected lady in the community, refused to yield her seat in a bus to a white citizen, as it was ordered by a segregationist local law, resulting in her arrest. This prompted the immediate action of community leaders, thus setting the scenario for the legal struggle. E.D. Nixon, a local leader, with the agreement of Mrs. Parks and her family, mobilized black leaders in Montgomery, when he recognized the arrest of Mrs. Parks as “the case we’ve been waiting for…to break the situation on the bus.”

The gifted, young new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Church was chosen by his fellow clergymen, as the spokesman and president of the “Montgomery Improvement Association.” Recalling this decision, King later confessed about his election: “I was surprised to be elected…both from the standpoint of my age, but more from the fact that I was a newcomer to Montgomery.” He was also, “obsessed by a feeling of inadequacy.’”

However, King’s newness in the community was precisely and as a matter of fact, what actually made him the ideal candidate to direct the boycott. He also proved that he was not inadequate at all, but just the leader that would become the best exponent of the civil rights movement from then on.

King’s exceptional thought, plus his philosophy, gave to his actions a singular and very effective style. His message consisted of the doctrine of Christian love, preached by Jesus, and the practice of civil disobedience, inspired by Thoreau and Gandhi. Nonviolence and civil disobedience were the tactics to mobilize the people to confront the “Jim Crow” system. Resistance through these methods resulted in much of the success of the movement.

King was not an advocate of violence. He did not believe in racial superiority either. His message was very consistent with the natural law and the eternal truth. On this topic, he was, specially articulated and bright. He explained and defined the two types of laws: just and unjust. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law of God…Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” wrote King, while being jailed in Birmingham for the violation of an “unjust law.”

He viewed blacks and whites as equal. He fought to established equality, not superiority. He perceived life as worthy, regardless of a particular exterior human appearance. In a speech that he delivered in Nashville, Tennessee on December 27, 1962, before a church conference, he spoke about ethical demands for integration: “The life of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin, or his social position. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because he has value to God. Whenever this is recognized, ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ pass away as determinants in a relationship and ‘son’ and ‘brother’ are substituted.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in such a powerful way that, not only Americans, but also around the world, his courage, moral character and activism were recognized in favor of a more equal society. Thus, he became the recipient of the Nobel Price for Peace in 1964.

Through his leadership, many victories were won during the twelve years he was active in the movement, as well as several defeats. King was not successful in bringing a total conviction to the entire black community and to his fellow activists. In the midst of dissension, he stressed the fact that violence was not a viable way to accomplish equality. He did not seek to humiliate the “white brother,” but to eliminate hatred evil in the interaction between both races. Nevertheless, nonviolence was not seen by many leaders as the proper way to achieve their goals. This caused a great gap within the movement.

“Black Power,” the philosophy of using violent means to obtain social equality by African-Americans, challenged King’s doctrine of nonviolence, and split the movement. Black leaders as Malcon X and Stokely Carmichael pushed for separatism and inequality. But King remained, until his death, an apostle of nonviolence.

Martin Luther King was a profuse thinker. He gave many public speeches and wrote numerous writings. One of his major speeches was the “I have a Dream,” delivered in the context of the “March to Washington,” in August 1963. His exemplary qualities as a man, his skills and attributes, his understanding of the civil rights struggle, and his advocacy for nonviolent activism, gave him a prominent place in human history. His faith grew in the same proportion of the opposition he faced.

Until his tragic death, he remained fully persuaded that the avoidance of violence was not a choice, but the only moral way to obtain equal rights and freedom. He understood that respect and dignity are not attainable by using disrespect, or by seeing white people as unworthy. He believed that America, in order to be a true great nation, needed to live out its credo of men’s and women’s equality. He envisioned a just, equal society where the basis of judging a person would be based on the character, instead of judging by the color of the skin.

King’s legacy is very alive today. Legislation on racial issues that was won by the movement 40 years ago has been reshaping the landscape of America. Much of his dream has become a reality to a great extent, for many African-Americans, as well as for other ethnic groups in the U.S., within the context of legal justice and rights.

Discrimination, though not legal, it is still real and very alive also. Hatred and prejudice are rooted in the human heart, and no law can exterminate it. But King’s work transformed the legal scenario and blacks now enjoy the fruits of his efforts.

We still “must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That will be the day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”

Albert, P.J. and Hoffman, Ronald, Editors (1990). We Shall Overcome, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Freedom Struggle. Pantheon Books, New York.

Nash and Jeffrey (1994, 3rd. Edition). The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society. HarperCollinsCollegePujblis-her, New York.

Nash and Jeffrey (1994, 3rd Edition). The American People, Creating-, a Nation and a Society. HarperCollinsCollegePublisher, New York.

Albert, P.J. and Hoffman, Ronald, Editors (1990). We Shall Overcome, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Freedom Struggle. Pantheon Books, New York.

Albert, P.J. and Hoffman, Ronald, Editors (1990). We Shall Overcome, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Freedom Struggle. Pantheon Books, New York.

Washington, James M., Editor (1986). A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Letter from a Birmingham City Jail”. King, 1963) . HarperSanFrancisco, New York.

Washington, James M., Editor (1986). A Testament of Hope, The Essential Speeches and Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (“The Ethical Demands for Integration”. King, 1963). HarperSanFrancisco, New York.

Washington, James M., Editor (1986). A Testament of Hope, The Essential Speeches and Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Our God is Marching On!” Montgomery, Alabama speech. King, 1965). HarperSanFrancisco, New York.


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