Monday, January 15, 2007

A Man of Vision

Winter is making a grand entrance here today. The cold temperatures, rain and later ice that have been crossing the country are arriving here today. I am thankful that today is a holiday for our son and I don't have to get out until the rain lets up a bit.

Today is the birthday of two good men: my husband's oldest and dearest friend as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I was doing a little research on the life of Dr. King, I noticed a fact that I don't remember reading before - his birth name was Michael, not Martin. His name was changed later. I wonder why that happened.

The family business was Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His grandfather became pastor there in 1914, followed by his father and then his tenure there.

Martin Luther King, Jr. graduated from high school at the age of 15. He went from there to Morehouse College, a renowned black college. Again, attending this institute of higher learning was following in the path of his grandfather and father, both graduates of Morehouse.

Next King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He was president of his senior class at this mostly white seminary. While there, he was awarded a fellowship to Boston University. He accepted the fellowship upon graduating from Crozer in 1951.

While continuing his graduate studies at Boston University, he met and married Coretta Scott. She was known for her intelligence and her artistic talents.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter", Dr. King said.

He became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and also a member of the executive committee of the NAACP. In December 1955, he joined the bus boycott. This boycott was described as "first great Negro non-violent demonstration of contemporary times in the U.S." by Gunnar Jahn in his speech in honor of the Nobel Peace Prize presentation in 1964. King was the youngest man to receive the award, at the age of 35. The prize money at that time was $54,123 and he pledged to give it to the civil rights movement.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

King was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1963.

He was assassinated on the balcony of a motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

What struck me as I was reading about King's life, as I have done many times in my life, was that he was a man of privilege, especially for the times in which he lived. He was certainly far more educated than the average man, regardless of the color of the man's skin. He made the most of life's opportunities and responded to the call of leadership.

Dr. King was not a perfect man, that is clear. Often we succumb to the temptation of elevating our heroes to impossible standards of virtue. He was not faithful to his marriage vows to his wife and his vision of non-violence has been bent to justify all types of anti-war sentiments.

Dr. King was an opponent of the Vietnam War. This was not unusual among the American population. He, however, placed Coretta in the position of public, vocal opponent. He remained silent on the war almost until his death. He understood the power of the bully pulpit and did not abuse it needlessly. His message was focused and clear. All man are created equal.

I think Dr. King would be supportive of America's efforts in the war on terror. His civil rights advocacy was aligned with the mission that to whom much is given, much is expected. His 'I Have a Dream' speech still gives me goosebumps. The passion and emotion shine through.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy". - Martin L. King, Jr. 1963


srp said...

It makes you wonder how he would view the ACLU and other such organizations today.

He shares his birthday with another person ahead of her time... Joan of Arc.

Paul is a Hermit said...

Thanks, Karen, nice factual reprise of the man's life. Much of what I did not know or forgot.
No man is perfect. What he did for me was the same as JFK did, make me aware of the words in our Constitution and that they had meaning and needed attention. They gave me a vision of what we could be. I like you, understood the ideal in Dr. King's speech. What could be, should be. It felt so good to think we might.
I'd hope he'd have turned into a Walter Williams had he lived.

Janie said...

Thanks for the summary, Karen. Like Paul, some of that I knew, some I didn't.

Excellent writing.