What to take from Dr. King’s life

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was walking across the Harvard Law School Yard. It was dust dark. A fellow Harvard Law School classmate was walking in the opposite direction. When he got near me, he just said, “They killed him”. He didn’t say whom they killed but I immediately knew from the tone, inflection and weight in his voice. It was April 4, 1968. The “him” was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is now fifty years since that fateful day. I can still feel the intense pain. I can still feel the exploding hurt. I can still feel the profound loss. But I don’t want to focus on the terrible death of that one day. Rather, I want to focus on the life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived during the 14,324 days from the date of his birth (April 15, 1929) to the date of his death (April 4, 1968). It was a terrible death but it was truly an extraordinary life. Dr. King came from the upper rungs of Black society. He was born Michael King but his name was changed to Martin Luther King, Jr. His father was a successful Baptist minister with a prestigious church in Atlanta.
Dr. King believed in non-violence. It was not just a movement strategy or tactic for him. It was a way of life. He really practiced non-violence. When he was hit, he didn’t hit back. When he was stabbed, he did not insist on punishment for his attacker. When his home was bombed, he was just thankful his family was not hurt. When he was attacked by the media, he didn’t strike back. When he was falsely charged with crimes and put to trial, he did not complain. When the FBI tried to destroy his marriage and make him commit suicide, he did not condemn. Dr. King believed in nonviolence and practiced it in his daily life right down to the day he died. Still he was violently attacked and violently killed by assassination.
Dr. King was humble. He became one of the best known persons in the whole world. He was lifted to high heights, even receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the public face of the four great Peaks of the Civil Rights Movement: the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the Birmingham Public Accommodations Struggle; the March On Washington; and the Selma Voting Rights Struggle. In his death, he is the only non-President with a memorial on the Washington Mall and a National Holiday held in his honor. But he remained humble. He would listen to anyone. He was never too big for the least of these.
Dr. King had vision. We think he had dreams because he used the phrase “I have a dream” in his most famous public speech. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 but his vision of peace and justice lives on with these fifty years being just a way stop.
What do we take from Dr. Kings life? First, he was a man of great love for human kind. He wanted the best for all human beings no matter their status or circumstances. Love guided his course. Love infused his actions. He was a man of love.
Second, Dr. King was a man of peace and justice. He knew that there could be no real peace without real justice. He understood that peace and justice are but different sides of the same coin. Dr. King struggled every day to create justice and build peace. It was his vision. It was his mission. It was his life.
Third, Dr. King was a man of total commitment. He stayed the course in spite of set backs. He stayed the course in spite of hardships. He stayed the course in spite of attacks. He could not be scared off. He could not be bought off. He could not be brushed off. He just stayed the course. He was a man of great commitment.
Fourth, Dr. King was a man of brilliancy. He was brilliant in his thinking. He was brilliant in his speaking No one spoke as brilliantly as Dr. King. He was brilliant in his writings. He was brilliant in his actions
Fifth, Dr. King was a man of courage. He risked death daily. He risked the ire of President Lyndon Baines Johnson by forcefully speaking out against the Vietnam War.

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