If you are young, you need to know. If you are in your later years, it’s important to remember.
So, this year’s column celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. is biographical. I hope you will take a few minutes to read and reflect.
I also hope to see you at the annual celebration of Dr. King’s life at the Prescott Methodist Church, Jan. 15, at 11 a.m.
Dr. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in a black neighborhood, attended all-black schools and graduated in 1948 from Morehouse College in Atlanta. Before his 27th birthday he had earned a BD from Crozer Theological Seminary and a PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston University.
In 1954, he accepted the pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The year after he arrived, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Black citizens on Montgomery organized a boycott of the bus company and the Montgomery Improvement Association chose Dr. King as its leader. His voice began to be heard in the U.S. and soon around the world.
In 1957, he visited India and returned to the states with a strong belief in the value of non-violent approaches to bringing about societal change. Readers may wish to read his book, Stride Toward Freedom, an account of the successful Montgomery bus boycott.
In 1960, he resigned his pastorate in Montgomery and moved to Atlanta and became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a new but rapidly growing civil rights organization committed to non-violence.
In the next few years Dr. King intensified his drive for civil rights, staging boycotts in Albany, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. His non-violent approaches met with violent responses from white citizens and the police. Churches were bombed and civil rights workers were beaten and murdered, but King insisted his followers practice non-violence when they committed acts of civil disobedience.
In Birmingham 1963, Dr. King was arrested and jailed. Eight prominent white Alabama church leaders of different faiths issued a statement called “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.” They criticized blacks and Dr. King for disobeying the law. While in jail, King responded with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” This was an eloquent response and speaks powerfully of one of the great freedoms — freedom from racial discrimination — which is rooted in our religious faith and which our nation stood for in principle but had not yet established in practice.
On Aug. 28, 1963, the March on Washington took place. Over 250,000 of every race and creed participated. Black leaders met with President Kennedy and many spoke to the crowd, including Dr. King who electrified the audience with his “I have a Dream” speech.
In December, Time magazine chose him “Man of the Year.” The following year, President Johnson prodded Congress to pass the first civil rights bill since 1875. In autumn of 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1964, his second book was published, Why We Can’t Wait.”
In 1965, segments of the civil rights movement began to lose confidence in the non-violent approach. Dr. King’s efforts to fight discrimination in Chicago were less than successful. When he spoke out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, there was a significant backlash against him. He expressed many of his thoughts about what was happening to our country in the book Where Do We Go from Here?
In early spring of 1968, he went to Memphis to assist the sanitation workers who were on strike. It was there that he was fatally shot on a motel balcony. The assassination set off rioting in some cities as millions in this nation and around the world mourned his death.
Dr. King raised the discussion of human rights to a level that inspired citizens — black and white — to examine their beliefs and become active in seeking racial equality. He raised the discussion of human rights to a new level.
For many of us, his voice still rings out.