According to About.Com, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta Georgia. His father was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and later on, he himself became the preacher of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He led the famous Black Boycotts between 1955-1956 against the segregation in city buses.
His policy of nonviolent resistance culminated in the “March on Washington” in August of 1963, with more than 200,000 African-Americans joining the protest, calling for equal civil rights for all. This again was able to bring worldwide attention to his cause. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1964, Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act, which essentially prohibited discrimination against any person on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin in restaurants, hotels, motels, and also prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of the same factors mentioned above.
Dr. King finds that his present actions are inspired divinely. These clergymen, unwise and untimely, referred to his actions, as a new mayor had just been elected in Birmingham, and it is believed that these clergymen wanted to wait for a while and observe what the new mayor was going to do. Dr. King described Birmingham as the most violent city in the United States of America with respect to the disregard for the rights of the African-American at that time.
He makes mention of biblical passages where equally inspired men left their own homes and comfort zones to preach the gospel of Christ to the far corners of the world. Dr. King also stressed the “interrelatedness of communities and states” (Dr. King’s letter). Any event that occurs in one part of the world somehow affects each and every other state to a certain extent. Hence this spurred his desire for direct action as a form of protest against discrimination of blacks in the United States.
He then replied to the clergymen’s charge that the demonstrations were not the solution to their problems, stating that the Negro community in fact had no other alternatives, as racial injustice was becoming too far widespread and that many cities were becoming too segregated. He went on to give particular examples of violence against the Negroes: lynching, drowning, kicking, beating, on the physical side, and the deprivation of education; thereafter economic opportunities on the economic side. He tells how it feels to be called “nigger” (Dr. King’s letter), and to have such an overwhelming sense of helplessness, to the point of despair.
In the same letter he outlines the four steps in any non-violent campaign. The first is the collection of facts to determine if the injustices done are really existent. He enumerates the facts of the case: bombings against Negro communities, the violence against Negroes, and the like. Next, he mentions the need for negotiation, and in the letter it is stated that their group had gone so many times to talk to city officials about the need for changes in the law and in the city ordinances, but it would seem that their pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
The third step then is described as the process of self-purification, where one examines himself in order to determine if he is ready to take the effects of the demonstrations or protest actions that they will do in the near future. Would one be ready for jail, for beatings, or for other forms of retaliation against the self and his family? If one successfully overcame the step of self-purification, then direct action would follow. (Dr. King’s letter).
Dr. King stated in the letter that the end objective of direct action was to create a crisis – a sort of tension within the community, especially if it was known that the aggressors had refused negotiation several times. He stressed the need for a dramatization of the situation, as requests for negotiation have been refused from time to time. As a result of this refusal to negotiate, direct action has been taken. He goes on to describe the tension as a necessary item for growth, so that “men can rise from prejudice to understanding and brotherhood” (Dr. King’s letter).
Thus, the purpose of direction is to create a situation so packed with tension such that the aggressors agree to go back to the negotiation table. We often forget that Dr. King is a preacher, and a religious man at that. His basic philosophies in life were also revealed in the very same letter. The reason for civil disobedience, or in his terms direct action, is because of the existence of unjust laws. He then goes on to define any unjust law as a law that is not in tune with moral law, and with natural law.
If that particular law happens to degrade the human personality, then Dr. King calls that law to be unjust. He then goes on to say that the constant stream of unjust laws, specifically the instance of discrimination against Negroes in America, has caused some Negroes to become very complacent, and to accept discrimination as a way of life and as their destiny.
Towards the end, Dr. King wrote “nonviolence demands the means we use be as pure as the ends we seek” (Dr. King’s Letter). He points out that the policemen in Birmingham used the nonviolent means of policing the demonstrations as a good means to achieve the immoral means of racial injustice. Civil disobedience per se may be non-violent, but many will never know the intense loneliness that accompanies their crusade. Civil disobedience is a religious crusade in itself, for it tests the faith of man in his personal beliefs.
On March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a “symbolic” march to the bridge from which civil rights leaders asked for court protection for another big march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery (Selma to Montgomery March). Several historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Colaiaco, p. 28). But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968 (The Seattle Times, n.p.).
King Jr. places his bets on the inherent goodness of man and that peace and justice will indeed prevail in the end. He truly was a man of great faith, and in the end, gave up his life towards the achievement of his dream. In his short life, Martin Luther King was instrumental in helping us realize and rectify those unspeakable flaws that tarnished the name of America. The events, which took place in and around his life, were earth shattering, for they represented an America that was hostile and quite different from America as we see it today. Indeed, he was one of the outstanding leaders who have changed the way we live today.
Clayborne C. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:
Colaiaco, J. A.(1988). Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of militant nonviolence.” New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Fairclough, A. (1995). Martin Luther King, Jr. University of Georgia Press
Dr. King, M.L. Letter from Birmingham Jail. reproduced in the Semi Daily Journal of
Stephen Long, Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at: http://www.bdlong.com/mlkingjr.htm
Dr. King, M.L. Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. reproduced in
NobelPrizes.Com. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. About. Com. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:
Selma to Montgomery March. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at:
The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Seattle Times. Retrieved Feb. 1, 2007 at: <http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/mlk/king/biography.html>