As I prepared to write this article, it was unclear what should be written. The brainstorming begin:
He was a man of immense courage, faith and dedication to human rights–everyone knows that! He holds the distinction of being one of the world’s greatest orators–everybody knows that. Even if you did not agree with him, when you listened to him, you heart was moved to question and your soul to seek understanding. He impacted the world!
As a kid growing up in the deep south, I was focused on getting an education and helping my parents take care of my younger siblings, so my admiration for the man called “King” was from afar. It was not until young adulthood that I began to comprehend his struggle and recognize his grandeur. Even though he was only eleven years older than I, my desire to raise the banner for civil rights was far removed from his. Even my intense hatred of racism and what it does to the human psychic, did not spur me to actively join his movement.
After returning to the States in 1963 and getting Bachelors and Masters Degrees, being Mom and Dad to three little children while their father served in Vietnam, and working a full-time job, my time and energy were consumed. I heard his message, agreed with his non violent ideology and felt gratitude for his leadership, but I was content to let him lead the charge alone. Of course, I knew he had amassed a large following, but I also knew there were many who hated his activity and would be ready and willing to put a bullet in him.
In retrospect, I wonder why I did not take a more active role in the civil rights movement. That thought plagued my consciousness that April 4th day in 1968 as I was driving to work and listening to the news via car radio. Suddenly, I heard … “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.” My heart stopped … the tears flowed … What kind of a country are we? We just killed the President–John F. Kennedy, now this man! Killing in America was just beginning on a large scale. In the 21st century, many Americans murder the people they disagree with. Why are we so violent? Where is the peace that “passeth understanding?” What does this mean? It means looking at a human situation, determining how you feel about it, but allowing others to do the same without malice.
Dr. King’s distinction was his ability to disagree, seek change, but in a non-violent way. He knew “killing the person” does not “kill the idea.” Over two thousand years ago, evil sought and killed the man Jesus, but what did that do? It perpetuated his message. The same is true of King. Fifty years later, we love and honor his “I Have a Dream Speech,” and are still trying to make that dream a reality.
Tidbits About Dr. Martin Luther King
- Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 with the name Michael King Jr. When King’s father changed his name to Martin Luther, after the Protestant Reformation Leader, he changed his son’s name also.
- Because he was intellectually gifted, Young Martin omitted grades nine and twelve, and entered college at the age of 15.
- As a civil rights leader, King was imprisoned 30 times.
- At age 12, Martin was baby-sitting his younger brother who slid down the staircase banister and hit his grandmother, knocking her out cold. Later, she died, not from staircase injuries, but Martin felt responsible for her death and attempted suicide.
- Even though King graduated from Morehouse College at the age of 19, he earned only one A, one D in French and the rest B’s.
- In 1958, he was stabbed by a mentally-ill woman.
- In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King received the Noble Peace Prize, making him the youngest to receive it at that time.
- There are over 900 places in 40 states with streets named after him, with the south having 70 per cent of those places. Georgia leads every state with 122 streets.
- Dr. Martin Luther King was the first African American to receive “Man of the Year” from Time Magazine (1963).
As we honor the man, let us not forget the ideas, values and principles he lived by, for it is for the reason we label him “A Man of Distinction.”