With Dr. Martin Luther King Day being celebrated this week and February being Black History Month, it seems appropriate that I write about Dr. King, especially given that the theme of my writing in large part is about diversity and inclusion. But what is there to say about this great Civil Rights leader that isn’t already known? After doing a Google search, I answered my own question and was amazed at some of the findings. Here are some facts I didn’t know and you may not either.
Although Dr. King Junior’s birth name was Michael, at age five, his father changed his name to Martin after a trip to Germany when he met and was inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther. He also changed his own name to Martin. Martin Jr. was a middle child and the first son born to Alberta Christine Williams King and Martin Luther King Senior. He was a clever student who skipped both grades nine and twelve and began college at age fifteen.
After King joined Rosa Parks in the fight for equal rights, he drew huge crowds for his rallies numbering in the thousands. The first time Dr. King spoke at Lincoln Memorial, his address was about voting rights. However, the speech associated with King which was also at Lincoln Memorial was about jobs and freedom and is one of the most recognized of all time despite the fact it was meant to be only a small part of the program. In fact, Dr. King was asked to keep his comments to four minutes as there was music as well as three other speakers to be heard. He also was the last to speak as the others knew all the press would have disappeared by the end of the program. Dr. King modestly volunteered to be last anyway, and as it happened, that decision worked for his benefit. When he was about to conclude his brief message, Mahalia Jackson, King’s favourite gospel singer who had performed earlier during the program, shouted, “Martin, tell them about your dream.” And what was meant to be a few simple remarks turned into a passionate sixty-minute address often referred to as the ‘I have a dream’ speech which came to be synonymous with Reverend Dr. King’s name, and which has been named the greatest speech of the 20th Century. In his speech, he used the word ‘Dream’ eight times.
Once King became well known, he was a threat to the establishment and his life was constantly in danger. He was imprisoned thirty times and survived an assassination during a book signing when a black onlooker stabbed him with a letter opener. The seven-inch blade lodged near the main artery of his heart and it took the doctors hours to remove. He often spoke of death. In one speech he talked about ‘being over the mountain top’. In April 1968, while in Memphis supporting the black garbage workers, he talked about ‘getting to the Promised Land’. King bravely announced, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” That was to be King’s final speech as he was assassinated later that day. It was like he knew his life would soon end. He was fatally shot that evening.
He was not the only member of the family to be assassinated. Six years after he was killed, his mother was assassinated while playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia where her son had preached non-violence. The shooter was sentenced to death but was spared since the King family opposed capital punishment.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the only American other than George Washington whose birthday is honoured as a national holiday. He was a man who had his life taken for his belief that all people should be treated as equals. His ten-year-old granddaughter, his only grandchild has a dream, too. Enough is enough. She speaks with the same fervour as her grandfather once did. We need to ask ourselves: what is our dream? How can we make the world a better place? And then take action because “without action, a dream is just a dream. “
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left us with some wise words. He reminds us that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” and a warning that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
These are wise words from a wise man. We need to think about them seriously as our world still struggles with injustice. What part will we play in righting this wrong?