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Who Is Martin Luther King Jr?

This week the US celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr on15 Jan 1929. From humble beginnings as the son of a Baptist preacher he became the pivotal figure in bringing the black civil rights movement out of obscurity and into the public arena. He was deeply influenced by the teachings and tactics of Mahatma Gandhi who brought the people of India together to demand independence from British rule using non-violent actions. Thus King used a range of measures like bus boycotts and marches, and although they resulted in beatings and imprisonment he refused to give in.

His most famous speech often called simply “I have a dream” was delivered to about 250,000 civil rights supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington as the culmination of a “march on Washington for jobs and freedom” in August 1963. This was the turning point of the campaign and probably led to the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

His well known words on that occasion were in part:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation

where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin

but by the content of their character.”

(Speeches that changed the world, p152)

He delivered this message with confidence and determination, fuelled by his moral indignation and his strong Christian values (he was also a Baptist minister) to produce a potent force for good. However, this explosive mix sadly resulted in his being shot dead by a white gunman on 04 April 1968. In his final speech given the night before his death he said this:

“…I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you.

But I want you to know tonight,

that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

(Speeches that changed the world, p155)

Obviously, he left an indelible mark on US society, and would probably never have believed that his children would live to see an African American as President in the White House. But what is the message for us? We will never know what we can achieve through non-violent approaches, using love, forgiveness and determination. Which brings to mind one final quote from Martin Luther King:

“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”

So, what is your dream and what are you prepared to die for? Worth pondering as we begin a new year!

Chaplain Ian S Whitley