After over a decade of non-violent civil rights activism, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot outside his hotel room a day after his inspiring “I’ve been to the mountain top” speech. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and died on April 4, 1968, leaving behind a message of solidarity and social justice, which continues to inspire civil rights and race relation conversations today. His life story helps us to understand the path which made him a leader throughout the Civil Rights Movement and why his legacy is important for us to continue today.
Born January 15, 1929, to a family of ministers who rose from the destitute business of sharecropping, Martin Luther King, Jr. was destined for greatness. Family influences of hard work, discipline, and dedication provided him with the skills to lead a national human rights movement. The family’s strong religious beliefs were the roots to their position regarding class superiority, racism, and segregation, as they believed these actions countered God’s message of peace and love. Beliefs emulated in the work of Dr. King.
Martin Luther King Jr. did not initially pursue ministry. Though raised in a family deeply involved in church and worship, a young King Jr. questioned the idea of religion and worship. While arguably an act of rebellion on parental influence, he eventually found his own way to ministry through education. Martin Luther King Jr. developed a political platform of equality using Christianity as a means of advocating racial equality. King’s ministry placement at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church put him at the heart of civil unrest in the south. Segregation, police brutality, and racism plagued the community. A civil rights movement was just starting to develop, recognizing the inequality of society, and Dr. King helped provide momentum to the movement. It was here that he became the head liaison for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. His youth, education, and profession made him a strong and creditable leader of the black community. The Montgomery Bus Boycott victory helped fuel the leaders of the local movement to develop a national organization to coordinate a larger civil rights movement. Again led by Dr. King, their goal would be to address race-related issues nationwide through non-violent actions, including civil disobedience, education, voter registration and speeches.
As a pastor, Dr. King possessed strong rhetorical skills and charisma. Through his words, he inspired the African-American community and others to support civil rights. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered together at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and became witness to one of the greatest speeches ever given. It was here that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, emphasizing equality and rights for all. This historic March on Washington was a catalyst in pushing forward the civil rights agenda. The Civil Rights Movement continued to expand nationwide, but started to receive criticism from others, who saw Dr. King’s methods as weak, ineffective, and slow in producing results. Dr. King pressed on with his non-violent means of leadership, expanding discrimination to not only include race but poverty as well.
We have come a long way in working toward civil rights in the United States, but there are still areas in which we as a society can come together to ensure equality and equity for others. It may be a national conversation, but each of us can play a very important part. Here are ways in which you can continue Dr. King’s legacy:
- Find a mentor – Throughout Dr. King’s early years, he had many mentors that helped guide his energy toward a cause he was passionate about. These people didn’t necessary make Dr. King into the legacy he is today, but they helped guide and point out important aspects of his life that made him a strong leader. This guidance connected his strengths with his passion and ultimately led him to being the guiding light and support system of the Civil Rights Movement. Who are these people? They are your professors, your neighbors, and your employers. Open your eyes to who you believe can help you learn and grow, as well as those whose actions and integrity you admire.
- Continue the conversation – Dr. King influenced race relation conversations during and years after his death. While society has made large strides in reducing discrimination and increasing equality, it is still an issue today. We need to continue honest and peaceful conversations, expanding to a global human rights conversation, including topics such as race, gender, religion, immigration and economics. What conversations do we need to have in order to end discrimination of one human being against another human being?
- Find your passion – Dr. King rooted his education in a cause. He saw the use of his education and skills as a means to support a movement. Find out what causes you are passionate about, drive the direction of your learning and use your education to help drive your cause. Link your passion and education to a career you are passionate about. When you work toward something you are care about, it’s not work.
- Continue the dream – Dr. King had a dream for this nation and it was rooted in the American Dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as outlined in our nation’s Declaration of Independence. In order for the American Dream to continue, our conversations and our passions need to become public policy agendas. How do we guarantee the American Dream continues? Only you can answer this question.
Kimberly Blanchet is the Assistant Academic Program Manager for Liberal Arts in Post University’s School of Arts and Sciences. Blanchet is responsible for the continued development of courses and instruction within the Liberal Arts Department. Before joining Post, Blanchet worked for several years teaching and developing curriculum in middle schools and high schools.