“King’s basic belief was that you don’t fight fire with fire; you fight fire with water,” said Colman McCarthy, a journalist featured on the live webcast coverage of the Washington D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Dedication Ceremony. The event was held on Oct. 26, 2011.
Dr. King was a man of great integrity, noble character and prestige well earned. But, what is so powerful about King that his legacy and words live on in the hearts of Americans 44 years after his death? Why is he deserving of not only a national holiday, but a national monument, as well? Who – really – is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr?
King was born to Pastor Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King in Atlanta, Georgia on Jan. 15, 1929. At the ripe age of 18, King followed in his dad’s footsteps and became a minister. A year later, King graduated from Morehouse College, and then attended Crozer Theological Seminary. Upon graduating from Crozer at 22 years old, he married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. One year following the nuptials, King began his preaching career at Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala. In 1955, he attended Boston University where he earned his Ph.D. That same year, King held his first civil rights demonstration: the boycott of Montgomery city buses. In 1956, those bus lines were desegregated, an achievement that proved Dr. King to be one of the most credible civil rights leaders of the day. Around the same time, he structured the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council), which became the primary organization for conducting activities that pursued the goal of true civil justice. When he was 29 years old, he wrote and published his first book, “Stride towards Freedom.”
This impressive résumé leads to my first analysis of why MLK is nothing short of deserving of national recognition. Early on in life, his priorities were clearly established. I remember when I was 22 years old. Having one degree was a far cry from my list of achievements, let alone two. At that time, I was just starting to discover my identity in this world as a woman. I had no idea what my calling was. I’m grateful to have surrendered my life to Christ just a year later. It was only after I truly started to live for Him that the reason for my existence fell into place. Martin Luther King, on the other hand, had his life completely figured out by then. With a solid education, career and a new marriage, King proved that we do not have to waste our 20s being immature and indecisive.
Dr. King led many movements, but it was his March on Washington protest that promoted his prominence from regional to nation wide recognition. At this event, he gave the now legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In 1967, his last book titled “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” was published. This achievement came just one year before his untimely assassination.
“King’s leadership in the civil-rights movement was challenged in the mid-1960s as others grew more militant. His interests, however, widened from civil rights to include criticism of the Vietnam War and a deeper concern over poverty,” the Columbia 6th edition Encyclopedia states. “On Apr. 4, 1968, he was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel (since 1991 a civil-rights museum).” He was 39 years old.
Today, we are so fixed on finding a way to make a quick buck. Get rich quick or die trying seems to be the motto of our youth. Fame follows fortune in our registry of ambition. If one way doesn’t work to our advantage, we drop the ball and hop onto the next scheme. Martin Luther King, however, knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. Most importantly, he stuck to it. No matter how long it would take to turn the country around concerning civil rights, King was purposed to stick it through – even if it cost him his life. From him, we can learn the true meanings of perseverance, determination and endurance. These three key elements are essential to any endeavor.
Ironically enough, King gave his final speech, “I’ve been to the Mountain Top,” the night before he was murdered. The dialogue rings as a farewell of sorts – a farewell, an instruction on what to do next, and a celebration of the progress made thus far. Near the end of his oration, King said, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And 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! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
King left behind his wife, Coretta, who carried on his work and wrote “My Life with Martin Luther King” in 1989. She passed on Jan. 30, 2006 at the age of 79. King also left behind four children, each who are well respected for their individual triumphs: Yolanda Denise-King (died in 2007 at the age 51 of a heart condition), Martin Luther King, III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice Albertine King.
Throughout Dr. King’s entire life, he made fearless strides that would endorse him to be the hero that Americans so desperately needed. Because of his efforts, there are endless possibilities for all citizens, regardless of race, gender or class. His labors deserve nothing short of national acknowledgment and appreciation for a dream well realized.