Today, as one nation, we pause our normal activities to celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
His grandfather became pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1914. His father served in that capacity starting in 1931, and Martin Luther King, Jr. himself became pastor there in 1960. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
In 1954, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This positioned him in 1955 to become a leader of the bus boycott movement started by the unexpected bravery of Rosa Parks, who refused to follow the custom of sitting in the back of a Birmingham city bus. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Seizing on the methodology of Gandhi, Rev. King became President of the nascent Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Between his election in 1957 and his death in 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over 2,500 times (about once every other day). His oratorical skills were legendary.
From March, 1963, to March, 1966, he wrote a series of four annual pieces for The Nation, which the magazine has reproduced on the web.
Excerpts from those essays show a clear and strong authorial voice that resonates today.
For example, in the March 30, 1963, piece, “A Bold Design for a New South,” King writes:
Part of the blame must be laid to the Administration’s cautious tactics. Early in the year, the President backed away from the Senate I fight to amend Rule 22, the so-called filibuster rule; had he entered the fray, the amendment would probably have passed and the greatest obstacle to the passage of civil-rights legislation would have been smashed. (Despite this experience, the President again remained aloof, under similar circumstances, in January of this year, and again the amendment failed to carry.)
Remind us of anyone?
On March 9, 1964, in “Hammer of Civil Rights,” he wrote:
As had been foreseen, the [Civil Rights Act] bill survived intact in the House. It has now moved to the Senate, where a legislative confrontation reminiscent of Birmingham impends. Bull Connor became a weight too heavy for the conscience of Birmingham to bear. There are men in the Senate who now plan to perpetuate the injustices Bull Connor so ignobly defended. His weapons were the high-pressure hose, the club and the snarling dog; theirs is the filibuster. If America is as revolted by them as it was by Bull Connor, we shall emerge with a victory.
March 15, 1965, “Let Justice Roll Down”:
The Civil Rights Act was expected by many to suffer the fate of the Supreme Court decisions on school desegregation. In particular, it was thought that the issue of public accommodations would encounter massive defiance. But this pessimism overlooked a factor of supreme importance. The legislation was not a product of charity of white America for a supine black America, nor was it the result of enlightened leadership by the judiciary. This legislation was first written in the streets.
Sounds like judicial activism. And, finally, on March 14, 1966, his frustration with the glacial pace of social progress is evident in “The Last Steep Ascent”:
But the prohibition of barbaric behavior, while beneficial to the victim, does not constitute the attainment of equality or freedom. A man may cease beating his wife without thereby creating a wholesome marital relationship.
We also have, thanks to video on demand, the ability to hear the power and clarity of Rev. King’s oratory, such as in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The assassinations of President Kennedy, Reverend King and Senator Kennedy were signal events in my young life. At the time, I did not fully appreciate the legacy left by Rev. King upon his death. Later, I had the opportunity to visit the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and imagine myself as a civil rights protester led by now-Rep. John Lewis or Hosea Williams, marching north across a deep and age-old chasm, trapped by the railings of the bridge and the sheer drop to the river below, trapped into facing John Cloud with his state troopers and his attack dogs as an inevitable and necessary part of progress that must be attained. Before that march, only 350 blacks (out of an eligible 15,000) were registered to vote in Selma. The Federal Voting Rights Act and the actions of the federal courts were needed to enfranchise the benighted voters of Selma. That disenfranchisement, by the way, is tyranny, for those who so callously bandy the word about.
There were Giants in the Earth in those days. Reverend King was one of them.
- Remember The Message of Martin Luther King’s Dream (socyberty.com)
- “VIDEO: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and related posts (newsjunkiepost.com)
- Pentagon: Martin Luther King Jr. Would’ve Supported Our Wars [Military] (gawker.com)