Martin Luther King, Jr.: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. He became a great American whose birthday we officially observe each year on January 20th. Although he died the death of a martyr, he became somewhat of a legend during his own time. I am proud to join with my fellow citizens in celebrating his life and legacy.

Dr. King led a freedom movement that practiced civil disobedience and disrupted the tranquility of the United States. His tactic of nonviolent resistance confused the power structures of government at every level, local, state and federal. He literally left a trail of turmoil and chaos across the southern regions of the nation.

Born in Atlanta, Dr. King was reared in a Christian home. The King family cherished their religious roots. His father and grandfather were Baptist ministers who proclaimed the virtues of morality and immortality. These principles were undergirded by regular attendance at Sunday school and Sunday worship services. It might be said that family, religious, and educational experiences were instrumental in shaping Martin Luther King’s life and guiding him on the path from birth to prophetic leadership and service to his own martyrdom.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bequeathed America and the world with an abundant legacy. First, King helped the black church understand that it could partner with other community organizations in the struggle for righteousness and justice. Second, King dared to invite the children and youth to participate in the civil rights demonstrations. Third, King taught his followers to employ the instrument of nonviolent resistance in the face of “many dangers, toils and snares.” Fourth, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the ideal of Love and lived by the standard of Christian love.

Fifth, King also did not compartmentalize his efforts. While he waged the fight for civil rights, ultimately he engaged the peace movement when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. Although he was severely criticized, he did not shrink from his commitment to ending segregation as well as the war in Vietnam. Some critics, both black and white, felt that he should stay out of the peace movement. King could not do anything else, because he was a “drum major for justice.”

Sixth, King was a man of prayer. We generally remember him for his inspiring oratory. Behind the scenes, however, his personal prayer life gave him strength for the journey. Daily, King was confronted by the realities of death threats, dissension among various civil rights groups and leaders, and plain old fear. His faith, however, always stood at his intersections with fear.

King faced such an intersection when he went to Memphis, Tennessee to lead a demonstration on behalf of the sanitation workers who were on strike for higher wages. It was there that King was assassinated on the evening of April 4, 1968. Note, however, that on the previous night, King had told the gathered congregation that God had allowed him to go up to the mountain. He told them that he had looked over and he caught a glimpse of the Promised Land. He believed that all of the people would one day get to the Promised Land. Up until his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to instill a sense of hope among oppressed people.

Let us seize this wonderful King legacy and continue to build a beloved community as Nelson Mandela sought to do in South Africa. In these days of voter suppression, gun violence, ethnic suppression and mass incarceration, among other things, let us look forward as we remember the King legacy.Because King lived among us, America is not the same. He was a moral leader who made a difference in his nation and the world. He was a leader who helped the nation and the world to look forward to a better future.