We Still Need Him Today

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929 to an inheritance of Christian-based service. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all Baptist ministers.

For years, King resisted this calling. It was during his time at Morehouse College that King was inspired to accept his inheritance. The college president convinced him “to view Christianity as a potential force for progressive social change.” By graduation, King was ordained and had already engaged in political activism.

He continued his studies at Crozer Theological Seminary and then at Boston University’s School of Theology, where he graduated with a doctorate in systematic theology in 1955. While in Boston, he assisted with preaching activities at local churches, fine tuning his oratory skills and theological philosophy. In 1953, he married Coretta Scott, and they had four children by 1963.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1954, King accepted a pastor position in Montgomery, Alabama. The following year, he was selected to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association and its year-long bus boycott sparked by the Rosa Parks arrest. Pacifist leaders convinced him to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. The boycott lasted 382 days and ended after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the segregated bus laws unconstitutional. During the boycott, King faced great pressure, from experiencing physical abuse to being arrested to having his home bombed.

In 1957, he co-founded and was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to lead the growing civil rights movement. He remained focused on nonviolent means of achieving success, such as organizing and leading protests, sit-ins, and marches. These campaigns spread across the south and gained national attention for the civil rights movement. King helped organize the historic March on Washington in 1963, capping the event’s success with his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

King had a unique ability to rally a diverse base of national support, including “labor unions, peace organizations, southern reform organizations, and religious groups.” He also created international alliances by showing the links between segregation and colonialism. He helped bring international attention to the civil rights movement and was instrumental in the efforts that led to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. Afterwards, he expanded his focus to anti-Vietnam and anti-poverty campaigns.

Even as he faced tear gas, bombs, attack dogs, water hoses, personal attacks, abusive arrests, and constant threats on his life, King stayed firm on his stance of nonviolent methods. However, the threats were real, and on April 4, 1968, 49 years ago today, King was assassinated.

“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.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

King gave a voice to those who had none, using his personal and professional power on behalf of others and lifting them up. He did not view people as “followers,” but as friends, sisters and brothers, peers, partners, and allies. He believed in the humanity and dignity of all and demonstrated that through his words and actions.

He led by example, breaking out of societal expectations and norms and fighting relentlessly for what he believed was right. He understood the need for patience and persistence—sometimes at the same time—and was able to keep a long-term and big-picture perspective when facing challenges. He was intelligent, savvy, authentic, and impassioned. He excelled not only in speaking and writing, but also listening.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has been called a “visionary leader” and an “undaunted champion of peace.” I call him all that and an inspiration. And I wish he were here today.

This entry was published on April 4, 2017 at 11:47 am and is filed under Event, History, Inspiration. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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