Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.

1955's Montgomery Bus Boycott was a pivotal moment for civil rights in the United States not just because it began the long, slow process of breaking the back of racism in America, but because it propelled to prominence a Baptist minister by the name of Martin Luther King Jr.; only 26 years old at the time, King went on to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference predicated on the belief that intolerance and bigotry are antithetical to religious practice.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1929 in Atlanta, Mr. King became Dr. King just six months before his calling became a crusade; by then he'd already been pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, for two years.

As an activist, Dr. King's methods were modeled on those of India's Mohandas K. 'Mahatma' Gandhi, namely civil disobedience and peaceful protest to achieve stated goals. Gradually the violence with which these peaceful protests were met began to win more and more people to the cause of civil rights; among the earliest white supporters, the Quakers, threw the resources of their American Friends Service Committee behind the cause. The Quakers, it should be noted, had also been instrumental in abolitionism, which movement reached its zenith with the Underground Railroad of a century earlier.

From the early days of the movement, Dr. King's right hand man was the more overtly militant Bayard Rustin, who had campaigned to end discrimination in the US Armed Forces during World War II and later helped to organize the Freedom Rides of the late 1940s.

In the dozen years of his national prominence Dr. King achieved much, much of it as due to Rustin's persistence as his own; the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was attended by a quarter million people, who heard King announce 'I Have a Dream' and soon enough his dream was theirs. Despite attempts by Senator Strom Thurmond to slander King's relationship with Rustin - and by extension the entire movement - and the NAACP's chairman Roy Wilkins ironically bigoted refusal to give Rustin his due, King remained stalwart in his support of Rustin.

King, of course, never lived to see his dream realized; the cynical might say he never would, since such a high-flown ideal might seem well-nigh impossible. Despite the prickly issue that race remains in America today, though, one would have to be thoroughly blindered to say that African-Americans aren't better off today than they were in April 1968 on the day King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Not only is King's birthday a national holiday (observed in all 50 states since 2000) it seems every item he touched is treated as a holy relic and every place with any connection to him is a National Monument, which is as it should be. While King had his faults - for which of us doesn't - his qualities far outshone his frailties, and the progress he set in motion wouldn't be halted by James Earl Ray's bullet but accelerated instead.
share on: facebook

No comments: