Martin Luther King, Jr. needs little introduction. His name is associated with freedom, equality, and civil rights. He demanded the United States to confront and change its own prejudices.
What can we learn today from looking at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life? While the Jim Crow laws are a thing of the past, prejudice still exists. Martin Luther King, Jr. is as relevant today as ever. If we look at Dr. King’s life, we can see how his approach to advocacy is as significant now as it was then.
In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King writes, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.” This is exactly what he did in Birmingham. Merchants of the city refused service to African Americans. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights attempted to negotiate, offering to halt their ongoing protests on the promise that stores allow African Americans to shop. According to Dr. King’s letter, shops took their “Whites Only” and similar signs down for a little while, but put them back up later — if they took them down at all. So Dr. King and his fellow activists conducted workshops, training people how to protest. Dr. King wrote, “[W]e repeatedly asked ourselves: ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ ‘Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?’” Following these workshops, they conducted their nonviolent protests: sit-ins at lunch counters, kneel-ins of African Americans at white churches, and other forms of protest. His approach was direct and pointed.
“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”
— DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Dr. King’s message was consistently a balance between indignation and a calling to greater love. He did not shy away from the ugliness of injustice. He illuminated it in strength. “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society,” he writes, continuing to describe the injustices done to African Americans. At the end of both the Birmingham letter and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King expressed his aching desire for unity. He dreamt of a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Let us remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commitment to love and his outspoken opposition to injustice. Let us hope, as Dr. King did, that “in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
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