Speaking with a voice of wisdom and reason, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights movement from 1955 until he was tragically assassinated in 1968. A Baptist preacher and activist, King was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for using nonviolent resistance to combat racial inequality.
Dr. King had a strong Christian upbringing and faith that influenced his method of gaining equality for black Americans. He was also influenced by the nonviolent movement of Mahatma Gandhi. He chose peaceful marches, boycotts, and protests over riots. He concentrated on facts but also engendered feelings of possibilities and a new future.
His voice of wisdom
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he pointed out the Emancipation Proclamation freed millions of slaves in 1863. Yet in 1963 when he delivered this speech, he reminded everyone “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. He spoke of leaving behind the years of slavery and hatred and working forward to a land of freedom and equality.
The theme of dreams were not new in his speeches. In a 1960 speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he pointed to the gap between reality and the American dream. Though King’s speeches had a poetic cadence that enticed his listeners, he didn’t shy from criticizing white supremacists, federal government and state governments and the lack of progress made.
A keen strategist
King was also a master of strategy and logistics. He planned marches, protests, and opportunities for speaking for maximum results. Colleges, religious gatherings and conferences, in addition to protests, were openings to speak. He made the most of these occasions by speaking to a broader audience. He also spoke with his voice of wisdom to the heart and soul of America as he reminded us of words spoken by Jefferson and Lincoln and the American Dream for all.
Violence in the midst of peace
Tragically, this wise and peaceful man was killed by an assassin. His life ended far too soon. But the results of his efforts are many, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 just days after his death.
Many did not appreciate Dr. King at the time of his death. Sadly, a significant portion of America viewed him at the time as a troublemaker. However, in the decades since his death, his legacy and stature have only grown. He is rightfully recognized today as a great American and champion of peace and equality. His towering speeches now live as an inspiration to generations of Americans born after his passing.
In this difficult time for our nation, America would do well to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent, yet forceful, means of appealing to our better angels.