“We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”
-Martin Luther King-
On the 15th of January 1959, the world was introduced to a fresh voice of an inspiring personality who stood up for the struggle of civilians, most prominently, the ethnic battle. He was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize; Martin Luther King Jr.
Born as Michael King, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, King came from a middle-class family surrounded by the tradition of the Southern Black Ministry; his father and maternal grandfather both were Baptist preachers. Both his parents were college-educated and so he attended segregated public schools in Georgia and graduated high school at the age of fifteen. Then he received the BA degree from Morehouse College in 1948. What the highlight of it was that the college was a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta where both his father and grandfather has graduated from.
From a very young age, he experienced the prejudices that were common in the South where at the age of six, one of his playmates who were White told him that his parents would no longer allow them to play together.
When King was only 12 years old, his maternal grandmother died of a fatal heart attack while he was in a parade without his parents’ permission. This incident left him so shaken that he even attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window.
When he was at college, he wanted to study Medicine and law but had to enter the ministry upon his father’s desire. After graduating, King spent the next three years at Crozer Theological Seminar in Chester, Pennsylvania. There, he came across Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence and the thought of Protestant theologians. In 1951, he earned a bachelor of divinity degree.
King was a rather proficient orator, so as a result, he was elected as the president of Crozer’s student body amidst a lot of White students. His own studies didn’t end there and continued at the Boston University where he studied man’s relationship to God and received a doctorate for a composition titled “A comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”
During these times, in 1953, he married Corette Scott, a native Alabamian whom he met while in Boston and had four children together.
While King was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, an incident occurred on the 1st of December 1955 when an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give her bus seat to a white passenger. As a result, she was arrested for violating the city’s segregation law, but the activists didn’t stay still. They were furious and instantly formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the transit system and chose King to lead them.
During the Montgomery action, King organized the Southern Californian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He gave speeches all around the country about race-related issues and in February 1959, he and his party were welcomed by then India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Martin Luther King further looked to Africa for inspiration and wrote: “The liberation struggle in Africa has been the greatest single international influence on American Negro students. Frequently I hear them say that if their African brothers can break the bonds of colonialism, surely the American Negro can break Jim Crow.” His audacity is truly admirable!
King moved to Atlanta with his family in 1960 and became co-pastor with his father in the Ebenezer Baptist Church. All the while, he devoted his time to the SCLC and the civil rights movement in hopes of achieving his expectations. But the journey didn’t go smooth as in late October, he was arrested in an Atlanta department store with 33 other youngsters while protesting against segregation. He was sentenced to prison and was released when Democratic presidential candidate John F.Kennedy intervened. This action of the presidential candidate was widely publicized and it is believable to say that Kennedy’s intercession contributed to his victory to a certain extent.
His fights went on and on with successes and also failures. But it is safe to say that King won the hearts of many African Americans and liberal whites throughout.
One of the most prominent moments of Martin Luther King was on August 28, 1963, when King joined other civil rights leaders in the March on Washington. With more than 200,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to shout out the importance of solving the racial problems in the US, King delivered his most popular speech titled “I have a dream” which elevated the spirits of the crowd that day and for years up into the present.
Owing to his never-ending contributions, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King accepted this honour saying: “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”
King had a nonviolent approach to fight against the injustices but the younger generation wanted immediate change and they were into sudden confrontations unlike the patient King (when he was in his 30s). People saw him as an irresponsible and passive leader while boosting the youngster’s budding passion towards noticeable fights.
Amidst all the hurdles, King continued his fight until the spring of 1968 where he went to Memphis, Tennessee. There was a foreshadow as King addressed the crowd gathered around Mason Temple Church in Memphis on the 3rd of April, the night before he died and said, “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.” It was as if he saw his own end because the next day, when he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, King was shot by a sniper and killed.
His death caused riots across the country and on March 10, 1969, a white man named James Earl Ray confessed to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Yet, later Ray again claimed that the lawyers had pushed him into confessing to a crime he didn’t do and he was actually a mere victim. Unexpectedly, King’s family members also came to Ray’s defence and King’s son, Dexter publicly pleaded to reopen Ray’s case. Eventually, Ray died in 1998 and there, Coretta Scott King stated, “America will never have the benefit of Mr.Ray’s trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination…as well as establish facts concerning Mr.Ray’s innocence.”
Due to the above proclamations, the US government conducted more investigations regarding the murder of King but to no avail because every time it was concluded that Roy was the only murderer. However, Martin Luther King’s assassin remains a mystery not solved!
Above all, Martin Luther King Jr. has been loved throughout the years owing to his bravery and righteous combats against racial unjust and other prejudices. It’s no surprise, that he is even in the textbooks of school children as a hero figure whom we have a lot to learn from. His speeches are also really popular on account of his mastery in oration and the motivational aspect in them. Although he couldn’t see it to the end, his initiations have come this far by diminishing the racial inequalities in the long run. He must be assured in heaven!
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