The life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,

Contributing Writer,

King

On January 15, 1929, a baby boy named Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout his childhood Martin experienced social injustices that festered beyond measure. The preachment of his father, grandfather and other ministers within the family often spoke against ill treatment advanced upon blacks within the family and the community.

To add to the problem were Jim Crow laws that confined blacks to spatial areas solely open to whites. Living conditions such as these that showed the reality of discrimination and segregation lingered on King’s mind.

King’s upbringing and religious studies while at Morehouse College in Atlanta and Boston University revealed to him that religion was a powerful tool for social change. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is one of the orator’s famous quotes. He determined that in the midst of strife, there was only one way to fight hatred and win – to love. It is no wonder, then, that upon his return to Atlanta from Boston, he demonstrated that he was a doer of his words.

Influenced by the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he utilized his oratorical gifts while leading the American Civil Rights Movement from December 1955 to April 4, 1968, the date of his assassination. 

For 13 years America and the world witnessed King’s unwavering commitment and integrity to his calling. Through organized peaceful protests, the activist and pastor sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice.

According to The Center for Social Change in Atlanta, he was jailed 29 times and arrested for “acts of civil disobedience.”

During the March on Washington in 1963 which attracted a crowd of more than 250,000 demonstrators, it was King’s I Have a Dream speech that prodded Congress to move faster in passing the Civil Rights Act (a set of laws passed in 1964). African Americans gained more equal treatment from many of these laws than they had ever received before.

Then in December of that same year, King’s pivotal role in advancing civil rights won him a Nobel Peace prize at the University of Oslo. He ranked the second African-American recipient of such an honor as Ralph Bunche in 1912 was the first for his late1940s mediation in Israel.

King’s legacy has taught us that all peoples are interconnected, and within that connection is an outcome. While it is okay to dream, it is better to persist in the fulfillment of our dreams so as to make the world a better place to live. Living intentional lives allows us to speak up in the face of injustice. While ideas are good gifts to have, nonviolent action produces what may be good for humanity which can take the individual with the idea to a totally different reality: unification with humankind. We are then carried beyond skin color to a totally different level: character. 

Among generations, King’s familiar voice is one recognized throughout the world. His logical appeals resonate in the minds of those who hear his speeches. It was King’s compassion for human dignity that drove him in his faith to inspire peoples from all walks of life to have self-respect and respect for others. 

His nonviolent tactics brought world leaders to their knees. His courageous acts paused youth in their tracks to realize that they could achieve their goals, despite obstacles. 

Though he departed in 1968, those of us who remain behind and are yet to come will be reminded of his dream and will be charged to work for the good of the human race.

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