“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Dr Martin Luther King Junior (MLK for short) was an American pastor (clergyman), the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the founding leaders of the US Civil Rights movement (rights for minorities or more specifically blacks in USA). He was one of the greatest ever orators (speakers) of USA.
Most Influential Black Person in US History
MLK is one of the top few Most Famous Black Americans. In my opinion he is the number 1 Black person who brought most significant change in US society especially for Blacks. His quotes are truly inspiring; especially a lesson for Muslim nation which is under oppression but sleeping happily, waiting for its situation to improve without doing anything:
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
Slaves Born to Serve
MLK’s family was one of the millions transported from Africa to US to work as slave labour. They were treated sub-humanly. Their houses, churches, schools, and as such lives were segregated from whites. They were there to serve not live. It was people like MLK who fought for justice & equality, and brought a change in the US law, eventually in the mentality of the people.
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Christianity was Central to MLK’s Life
MLK was born on 15th January 1929 to a religious family in Atlanta, USA. He completed PhD in religious studies and became pastor of a Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama following the footsteps of his father and grandfather. An incident was about to happen that would bring him to the main stream politics, and change the history of USA.
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Montgomery Bus Boycott:
Rosa Parks, a middle aged woman was returning home in 1955 after a long shift at work. Tired, she boards a bus belonging to the “Montgomery Bus System”. Blacks were only allowed to sit at the back of the bus. Soon the bus driver tells her to move to the back of the bus so that a white can sit in her seat, Rosa refuses! She was arrested and the news broke in the media. This was the start of an incident that changed the history of USA, especially the black people’s.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Black communities were informed and mobilised through local churches to boycott the bus company. The protest against the separation & discrimination of black people on buses grew and grew; buses went emptier and emptier as days passed.
“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”
MLK got involved in this movement and soon became known in the whole USA. The 382-day boycott forced the bus company to change its regulations, and the Supreme Court declared such segregation unconstitutional! This was a great success for the Civil Rights Movement.
MLK came across Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent means of struggling which were used against British in India. It inspired MLK deeply; he promoted non-violent protests against discrimination of blacks in USA based on the methods of Gandhi. He then visited India in 1959.
MLK an Untouchable (Shoother)
Low caste people in India are referred to as Shoothers. These are considered as untouchable (unclean). MLK was due to speak at a school where Children of Shoohter studied. The principal of school introduced him as ‘I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America’. In MLK’s own words:
“For a moment I was shocked and even peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable’,” MLK said he then started to think about the fact that 20 million of his brothers and sisters were still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in an affluent society. “And as I thought about this, I finally said to myself, yes, I am an untouchable and every Negro in the United States is an untouchable”. This incident had a profound effect on MLK; inspiring him to struggle more vibrantly.
“In the end; we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Whites Worked Alongside:
Many white people who valued a human being irrespective of his skin colour also joined his movement. There were many whites who believed in justice and equality but still they were in minority in this big country.
“I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”
Opposition to Vietnam War & Work against Poverty:
MLK opposed US war against Vietnam. This act didn’t go down well with establishment and the army. He was not alone, Muhammad Ali, another legendary Black American do so too. Towards the last years of his life he started focusing his efforts against poverty in US. In 1963, King led mass protests in Alabama against the discrimination where the white population were violently resisting Black rights. King was arrested and jailed for his part in the protests.
“Time is always right to do what is right”.
The Great March on Washington – The Largest Political Rally in USA:
After his release, King participated in the enormous civil rights march on Washington on 28th August 1963, the largest ever political rally in the history of USA. The rally’s theme was “Jobs and Freedom”. Estimated participants were between 200,000 & 300,000. About 80% were black and rest were whites.
I Have a Dream:
MLK delivered his famous speech ‘I have a dream’ here, predicting a day when the promise of freedom and equality would become a reality in America. He declared:
“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.”
In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Philanthropy (giving Charity) is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
Blacks Get Right to Vote:
In 1965, MLK led a campaign to allow blacks to vote. The same year the US Congress passed the “Voting Rights Act” allowing blacks the right of voting. It was only 45 years after women in US got the right to vote in US.
MLK is Killed
He was assassinated on 4th April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The killer was sentenced to 99 years in jail. It is unclear who was behind the murder, though the killer claimed it was CIA. His birthday is celebrated as MLK Day and is a national holiday in USA.
MLK’s Philosophy in Short
- Oppressed must demand his rights from oppressor – you get nothing without asking
- Struggle should be non-violent
- Don’t let others manipulate you – no one can ride your back until YOU bend it.
- And Think, Think, Think – Why are we in this Deep Trouble and What is the Right Solution?
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”