Martin Luther King, Jr was a man of destiny, an apostle of peace who had risen to the lofty heights of spiritual awareness, a towering hero and historical role model whose mission in life was to serve others, one of only a few genuine prophets produced by Western Civilisation. His wisdom, words, commitment, deeds and dreams for a new cast of life were intertwined with the noblest of human aspirations; there is nothing in his life that was not joyous, and full of hope. He was a charismatic figure who attracted people by the magnificence of his concepts, and the brilliance of his insights.

His visions and goals were simple, yet breathtaking in their scope, the complete liberation of mankind and the elimination of injustices. Laws which generally inhibited or prevented these objectives, simply had to change, this was the unfinished agenda, and challenge for Western democracy.

Whenever God is going to speak through history and I choose to defer to the feminine manifestation of God’s desire and power, whenever She is going to change history, whenever She is going to move a situation, move a nation, free a people, She sends someone to do Her work. She doesn’t enlist the services of a lobby group, She doesn’t go to a committee, She finds one special person, Abraham Lincoln to reaffirm the creed of freedom, Mahatma Gandhi to free the land of spirituality from oppression; to redeem those subjected to generations of slavery She called forth Martin Luther King and made him call out to all right minded people that now was the time to stand as tall proud unfettered men and cast off the shackles of oppression and go forth into the light of freedom.

Many religious people and those committed to social justice are strong on doctrine but light on deeds, much on creed but light on conduct, much on belief but light on behaviour, much on principle but light on practice. Martin Luther King was not so restricted, he got out and worked to free himself and his people from the shackles of unjust authority, he seized the initiative, and the day.

Martin Luther King, Jr was a preacher, moralist, a decent human being, recipient of the Noble Peace Prize who would not bow his head in apathy, or still his voice while his nation strayed from its professed reverence for justice and human life. His contributions were so dramatic and meaningful that they are universally appreciated. The entire world is the beneficiary of the efforts of this outstanding leader who brought millions of neglected and downtrodden people hope for living, and in so doing challenged the moral conscience of all people. Part of his universal appeal was that his philosophy of life was accessible, easily understood, recognised, and accepted by humanity. He challenged those committed to negativism to look inside themselves and to make brotherhood and equality a new possibility, and for others a meaningful reality.

Martin Luther King, Jr was a compassionate, honest, warm and wise individual with a clear sense of purpose, self-definition and internal balance, even today it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of his greatness. He had many gifts, including an eloquence of speech that reached out to millions of people the world over. He was dearly loved by the oppressed, and despised by those who apposed him. He called a nation, and its people, to live out the true meaning of its existence and its heritage and in so doing infused his people with pride and the necessary determination to change their world. He made the oppressed feel that they were not alone, he gave hope to the poor, friendship to the lonely, understanding to the ignorant, and helped the lost find their way. His views and thoughts were breathtaking, yet simple, his vision spanned the whole of human conduct, and he had strength born of humility; he was a man of his times, for all times, and all nations.

Martin Luther King was an eloquent and powerful speaker whose words were infused with a poetic majesty that both stunned and uplifted his audience. All who heard him speak took pride in their own self-worth, their commitment to social change and justice was rekindled and greatly deepened. A young activist described his reaction to a speech Martin Luther King gave in Boston in 1963.

‘ I left the hall to walk back down the avenue to catch a bus home, I was so filled with pride and enthusiasm, I felt as if my feet were barely touching the ground as I moved along, it was a profound personal experience that I will never forget’. 1

Martin Luther King was born into a country where practically every southern state was segregated, a divided and unequal system made up the educational, economic, political and social landscape of the Old South. Schools were segregated, restaurants were off limits to black people, and hotels had no vacancies when a black face appeared. Theatres, housing, waiting rooms, lavatories, drinking fountains, public accommodation, the queues for purchasing a dog license were segregated. This within a nation which called itself the hope for the oppressed of the world, which had declared all men equal, which had promised freedom, and equal protection for all, a nation which had built its wealth upon the backs of slaves.

He was born at noon on a cold and cloudy Saturday, January 15th 1929 at the family home in Georgia; the doctor feared him stillborn and had to spank him several times before he cried. He was the first son and second child to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. He was described as a precocious and intelligent child who pondered weighty issues and who spoke on advanced ideas that were always far beyond his years and experience. He was a child of the black middle class beginning his elementary education in Atlanta before attending Atlanta University, and then Morehouse College, completing his college education in 1953; his Ph.D. was awarded in 1955. It was during his college years he began a serious quest for a philosophical method to eliminate social evils, he read all the great philosophers. He began to ponder on what Gandhi called soul force, and the power of love and truth as a vehicle for social change. He later acknowledged his debt to Gandhi:

‘When the protest began, my mind consciously or unconsciously was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Gandhian method of non violent resistance’ 1

He was acknowledged as a first rate scholar who fused the ideals and currents of his time into a worldview of liberation. He entered the Christian ministry and was ordained at the age of nineteen, after completing his studies he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Montgomery Alabama, where he served from 1954 until 1959.

He accepted the presidency of the Montgomery Improvement Association, it was there that he first became an orator, an advocate, an historian, a fundraiser, a field general and a symbol.

Into this environment one day in 1955, Mrs Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, tires from a long day at work, took the first vacant seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus that was required of all black passengers, resulting in her arrest. Her arrest sparked that latent flame of self-worth resident in all people; it was the spark that ignited the flame that demanded an end to humiliation, intimidation and violence upon the soul and bodies of the oppressed black race of America.

In Montgomery Martin Luther King, Jr began a legacy of leadership, the cause was great; he felt a responsibility towards change, and he was not going to shirk it. He had no idea he was taking on a problem that would arouse the conscience of a nation, as a true leader he accepted the challenge and moved forward with it. The Montgomery boycott began, and he said that it was a drama of:

‘Fifty thousand who took to heart the principle of non violence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth. It was a story of leaders of many faiths and divided allegiances, who came together in the bond of a cause they knew was right. And of followers, many of them beyond middle age, who walked to work and home again as much as twelve miles a day for over a year rather than submit to the discourtesies and humiliations of segregated buses…. The majority of the people who took part in the year long boycott of the Montgomery’s buses were poor and untutored; but they understood the essence of the Montgomery movement. One elderly woman summed it up for the rest. When asked after several weeks of walking whether she was tired, she answered, ‘my feet is tired, but my soul is at rest’’. 2

Martin Luther King faced a nation that had been founded and governed by a people who had insisted on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and freedom for all. Martin Luther King believed in the message of the founding fathers of the American constitution, and saw his country as a covenant whose peoples’ bonding was fundamentally established in the Declaration of Independence:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings are created equal; that their Creator endows them, with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

He said that America could not be true to this vision and to the very basis of the founding of the nation until this fundamental right applied to all, equally and to fulfil the promise and the dream of true democracy. In seeking to accomplish this he committed himself to the dignity of every human being, even to those who considered themselves to be his enemies, he believed that even they had dignity as human beings worthy of his respect, despite the error of their ways.

In 1955 with the Montgomery boycott the national and international work of Martin Luther King began. It was to last thirteen turbulent years, during which time he was to raise his voice against the forces of evil and so forever change the course of his nation.

He strode forth in the quest for social justice and racial equality, yet knew that he would never enter upon the final road. He was prepared to sacrifice his life for the struggle, and central to this struggle was his commitment to change the nature of public opinion in America. Martin Luther King was able to change the terms of debate in America and won overwhelming support not only throughout his nation, but throughout the world as he marched upon the road for social justice and impartiality, reaffirming the dream that all people are created equal.

He enabled people to stand against racial injustice and brutality and so make the forces of darkness give ground and yield to those of justice. He seared into mankind’s consciousess the idea of going all out for one’s beliefs, he lifted the spirits of the oppressed to heights never before experienced, enabling them to take pride in their lives. While stimulating pride amongst the negroes of America, Martin Luther King made it clear that we all share a human and moral responsibility to join hands as brothers and sisters in the quest for social justice. He preached, and practised, a philosophy of racial integration, and would not give ground when faced with the call for separatism. He said:

When I speak of integration I don’t mean a romantic mixing of colours, I mean a real sharing of power and responsibility. 3

During his years at college he had been inspired by the words and deeds of Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle to free India of British colonialism. Gandhi was probably the most important intellectual and emotional influence on his life, what inspired him was how someone could fuse his own deprivations into a social movement to liberate a people. He developed a belief and a strong commitment to non-violence that became the basis of his plea to his country to put aside the shackles of racism and segregation. In 1959 in a stirring plea to his followers he argues the cause of non-violence:

‘I am convinced that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. Therefore, I have advised all along that we follow a path of non- violence, because if we ever succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of the long and desolate night of bitterness’. 3

His views of non-violence as a positive expression of soul force was a revolutionary initiative as he moved to confronting the status quo while refusing to accept lawful injustice. Martin Luther King said that if one passively cooperated with an evil and unjust system, such cooperation would make the oppressed as evil as the oppressor. He said:

‘I do not want to give the impression that non- violence will work miracles overnight. Men are not easily moved from mental ruts or purged of their prejudice and irrational feelings. When the underprivileged demand freedom, the privileged first react with bitterness and resistance. Even when the demands are couched in non-violent terms, the initial response is the same... The non-violent approach does not immediately change the hearts of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them a new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.’ 2

Martin Luther King had difficulty convincing his followers to commit to the course of non-violence, many said that they had been slapped on both cheeks and kicked on the other two, and they had no more cheeks to turn. He replied:

‘Violence must never come from any of us. If we become victimised with violent acts or intent, the pending daybreak of promise will be transformed into a gloomy midnight of retrogress’.2

His mission went beyond breaking the walls of segregation in America, he addressed the need to break the walls of isolation existing between all racial, ethnic and religious groups. He said:

‘Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find, but something that we must create. The ability to work together, to understand each other will not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of contact’.3

Society has made us feel uncomfortable and fearful of people from different racial and ethnic groups. He opened people’s eyes to the rainbow of diversity amongst humanity and believed in the essential goodness of mankind. He preached that racial integration begins with each individual and asked that this be the new song that we sing and live out in our lives. As a prophet he travelled across a country in conflict with itself, and spoke to all that listened, he spoke to the country about its most crippling and dangerous disease – racism, in courageous and challenging words he told his country:

‘It is time for all of us to tell each other the truth about who and what have brought the Negro to the condition of deprivation against which he struggles today. In human relations the truth is hard to come by, because most groups are deceived about themselves. Rationalisation and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our individual and collective sins. But the day has passed for bland euphemisms He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery’.2

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr was taken to jail in the aftermath of the Birmingham confrontation with the municipal authorities, and in particular with the Public Safety Commissioner Mr ‘Bull’ Connor. Negroes of the city instituted peaceful demonstrations into the heart of downtown Birmingham and were subjected to beatings, hosings, and the unleashing of police dogs. Martin Luther King was criticised by a group of white clergymen who blamed him for precipitating the violence, he penned a subdued, but passionate letter of reply to his colleagues, smuggling it out on toilet tissue, the margins of newspapers, indeed any scrap of paper available to him. Rather than giving in to despair his letters offer an eloquent testimony to the flaming moral concern for oppressed humanity that was his life’s work and legacy.

Most people sent to prison find despair, agony and long for release, yet he was at peace with himself and wrote prose that even now comes down to us as the highest, purest poetry. What has become known as the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’’ ranks among the most important American documents written (the text of the Birmingham letter is appended).

The atmosphere he created in 1963 with the great marches and demonstrations aroused the conscious of America and then in June, John F. Kennedy asked Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act.

In 1963 Martin Luther King led a march to Washington on the eve of the vote by the National Congress on the new legislation, which would become the Magna Carta for the Negro race. The march attracted hundreds of thousands of people who went with him to Washington and has been described as one of democracies finest hours. On the steps at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th he outlined his dream of his nation, his address to the nation through television and radio, now known as ‘I have a Dream’, is accepted as one of the finest addresses ever delivered to a public audience (the text of the speech is appended below).

He used the occasion to remind Americans of the unfilled promise in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, just as 1863 had been an occasion for Lincoln’s generation to remember the unfulfilled promised of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. He described a just society that aims to narrow the gap between the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, which is always under threat by those who see it as an obstacle to some private interest.

Martin Luther King, Jr started and became the Civil Rights Movement. His concept of somebodiness gave black and poor people a new sense of worth and dignity. He reached in and tapped what Carl Jung called our ‘collective unconscious’, the universal aspiration for the well being of all people. His philosophy of non-violent direct action, and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change, galvanised the conscience of his nation and helped reorder its priorities.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 went to Congress as a direct result of the March he organised and led from Selma to Montgomery and precipitated the fall of the Southern theory on racial separation. Why did he lead his march to Montgomery? During the Civil War the southern capital was first located in Richmond, Virginia, but was considered too far north and it was moved to Montgomery. Martin Luther King wanted to lead the march into the centre of the age-old heart of the Confederacy. One who took part in the march describes the experience:

‘The Selma March on March 25th, 1965 was the most democratic scene I had ever experienced in this country. It was just an exhilarating day that people were laughing and crying for once the word of ‘We shall overcome’ were changed to ‘We have overcome’. There was euphoria, there was exuberance. It was a multicultural day. It was really a sense that there were no more mountains to climb. And then I think that we were too unaware in our naivete of exactly what had been tapped, something told us that the old order had forever changed.’5

Martin Luther King played a pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, the struggle for integrated education, the destruction of racial barriers in the public services, the fight for voters’ rights, the movement of better housing and the rights of workers for decent wagers, ensuring success in the destruction of legal and traditional barriers of human dignity.

Some of his critics suggested that the plight of the Negro was his own fault and that preferential treatment and special rights were a form of reverse discrimination, no better than the discrimination he said he was fighting against. He answered:

‘It would be neither true nor honest to say that the Negro’s status is what it is because he is innately inferior or because he is basically lazy and listless, or because he has not sought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. Such thinking is a myth and it is of no use to cite comparisons with other races; there is no parallel. No other group was brought here in bondage. The Negro must have help to win his rightful place.. And there is no section of the country that can discuss the matter of brotherhood with clean hands’.2

In every age, every generation, every country, the forces of Hate supported by unknown and unseen power spawns and parades the erroneous, discredited and malicious racist. Strangely they are found at every level in society from the great universities the so called bastions of open-mindedness where racism may be couched in the soft tones of sociology and psychology, from the judiciary, from the police force who choose to term communities ghettos, through to the highest circles of government. But we all know that racism is racism and is evil in all its forms, no matter how it is marketed, or from whom and whence it comes; its poison is still the same, nearly incurable, leaving a deep scar upon the mind public.

Martin Luther King spoke bluntly to those who upheld the racist ethos:

‘It lies in the ‘congenital deformity’ of racism that has crippled the nation since its inception …. No one surveying the moral landscape of our nation can overlook the hideous and pathetic wreckage of commitment twisted and turned to a thousand shapes under the stress of prejudice and irrationality.

This does not imply that all white Americans are racists – far from it. Many white people have, through a deep moral compulsion, fought long and hard for racial justice. … However, for the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country even today is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists ….

Racism is based on the dogma ‘that the hope of civilisation depends upon eliminating some races and keeping others pure’, its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler, in his mad and ruthless attempt to exterminate the Jews, carried the logic of racism to its ultimate and tragic conclusions. While America has not literally sought to eliminate the Negro in this final sense, it has, through the system of segregation, substituted a subtle reduction of life by means of deprivation …

Racism is a philosophy based on contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the centre of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission’. 3

Towards the end of his life Martin Luther King, Jr moved beyond the issue of civil rights and racism, and sounded a call for the eradication of poverty, a cessation of exploitation. He demanded entry into doors of opportunity, sought a seat in the halls of power, argued for a redefinition, and a realignment of the relationship between class and power in America. He said:

‘The real cost lies ahead. The stiffening white resistance is recognition of that fact. The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if equality education is to be realised. Jobs are harder and costlier than voting rolls. The eradication of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters … Laws are passed in crisis mood after a Birmingham or a Selma, but no substantial fervour survives the formal signing of legislation. The recording of the law itself is treated as the reality of the reform … The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates. There are no expenses, and no taxes required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities with whites. Even the psychological adjustment is far from formidable’.3

Much of the nation was able to adjust to the black man’s struggle against the overt cruelty and the excesses of brutality imposed them. Many in the community registered outrage against the indecent social treatment of black people and supported legislation enshrining all peoples civil rights and liberties yet these very same people found no emotional outlet in the fight for economic and political equality. Indeed some perceived this persistence for meaningful equality as ingratitude.

When he addressed the issue of poverty and the creation of an underclass most white Americans, feeling that enough had been done, retreated from the struggle, and many joined the oppressor against black entry. He addressed this view in a portion of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

‘I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder … I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood could never become a reality,,, I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood flowing streets of our nation, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred men have torn down, other–centered men can build up.

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and non-violent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.’3

The reason Martin Luther King, Jr had to die is no mystery. He bridged the communication gap that separates struggling people that permits the greedy and the insensitive to rule. He enabled the poor and disadvantaged to form workable coalitions and showed they had a common interest in issues of inflation, unemployment, inequitable taxation, inadequate health care, education, crime, housing and corruption. Such matters affect millions of people across all sections of the community.

Martin Luther King travelled many roads, he went to arid reservations, to the barrios, to the urban ghettos, to the rural countryside, to the poor of all colour and asked why the affluent live insulated and isolated alongside the poor. He began to work to organise the poor of all colours and all kinds to demand economic justice and to challenge the unfair distribution of wealth, he raised questions people did not want to hear, and could not answer. By questioning the distribution of wealth and the plight of the poor he questioned the very basis of the American system and in so doing became a much greater threat and earned him the enmity of those in power.

Martin Luther King’s life is filled with missed opportunities, it would clearly be an error to claim that some significant progress has not taken place, and yet much more could have been achieved; this derives from society’s fundamental rejection of the appeals of conscience, and non violent action, which had been generated and promoted by Martin Luther King and others. Expectation of social justice remain unfulfilled, fundamental processes that govern the distribution of wealth and opportunity continue to be abused by misshapen motives

No more eloquent testimony to his life can be found than in the fact that he died working in the cause of predominantly black garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He was there because he believed they had a dignity worthy of the respect of their employers and fellow citizens, despite their station in life. He was born privileged, he didn’t have to champion the cause of the poor, he choose to cast his lot with the poor and devote all that he had to the cause of justice. He was on his way to Washington to lobby for the nation to deliver on the Declaration’s promise of an inalienable right to life for the poor and the excluded.

In his final sermon in Memphis, the night before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr described the situation in terms of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said the reason one passed by the man who had been beaten and robbed is because they asked the wrong question:

‘If I help this man, what will happen to me?’

The good man stopped to help because he asked the right question:

‘If I don’t help this man, what will happen to him?’

Martin Luther King had a profound understanding of the intrinsic value of the relationship between justice and peace and knew that there could not be an equitable settlement as long as injustice and inequality prevailed, he worked and gave his life trying to realise this dream.

The country killed Martin Luther King as nations always kill their prophets, the federal government of the day through the FBI and other agencies, encouraged – indeed call for – his death – in a sense pulling the trigger.

When we review his life and death it is appropriate to draw inspiration from the life and leadership of one whose vision and commitments remain unparalleled in modern America. It is important to review how he wished to be remembered:

‘If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, which isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind’.3

True to his word he left behind a committed life, a life committed to the struggle for justice. When we read his words, and ponder the life of one such as Martin Luther King we cannot help but feel uplifted, our hearts filled with a sense of joy.

In our society a citizen’s contribution is usually measured by the amount of power, or wealth they accumulate, past figures such as Edison, Ford and recently Gates, have been widely admired, but their memory is never as revered, nor as cherished as one such as Martin Luther King, Jr, and this tells us something of the human condition. We cherish those who are close to heaven, those whom the darkness cannot reach, those who give our aspiration wings to fly and lead us once again to a higher and nobler destiny. It is the visionaries, the men of peace who universally touch something deep within us, and our lives and society are forever altered by their presence.

Martin Luther King’s life tells us that the socialisation of our youth must also radically change if they are not to become dysfunctional human beings. Our responsibility is to change this condition in our society, and this change must begin with each of us. We should ask, what does his message mean to me, are we living our life engaged or disengaged from people with different racial, ethnic and religious identities? His life rings with a clarion call to act, we are not spectators, life is not a show and we the audience, quite the contrary, we are placed onto the stage of history, and God is the audience, and incumbent upon each of us is the need to do something, even if at times it appears difficult. The progress we make is not entirely due to our own effort and those around us, despite the obstacles before us and in addition to our efforts, God is just and works with those who work for the good of all people, She did not bring human kind this far just to leave us behind.

We can make a difference if we broaden the circle of our relationships and friendships, seeking the fulfilment of all that is good and decent within us, awakening latent possibilities and potential and travel the path towards self-actualisation, self-realisation, self-knowledge. Our lives should become part of a widening circle of meaning, not narrowing, as we develop ethically, morally, spiritually, and in our own way contributing to the changing of the social fabric in our communities.

The lives of the great souls of the Earth remind each one of us that we can also make our lives sublime, and leave behind us something of worth in the sands of time.

His contemporaries said of him:

‘We should keep in mind Martin Luther King’s kinship with the native American literary and political traditions. It reminds us how much of his power as a leader derived from his command of the language, a capacity for thought and expression and speech that connects him with such gifted writers and speakers on behalf of freedom, as Frederick Douglas or Abraham Lincoln, or Emerson and Thoreau. When you think of leaders like King and Lincoln you realise how much of their power to lead did in fact stem from their power of language, their gift of expression and communication. Martin Luther King is symbolic figure who connects us with the best, the most hopeful and generous, and most human aspects of our past’.1

‘The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr to us is an abiding faith in the possibilities of America and the promised of a just God. Despite the forces around and sometimes inside him conspiring to provoke alienation and despair, Martin Luther King, Jr loved America and gave his life to help the nation be true to its covenant of freedom and equality. God did not bring us this far to leave us behind’. 4

‘.. some were lured by the fire and the idealism which he brought to all that he did, one of the key legacies of Martin Luther King was that he spoke so eloquently of his patriotism, his love of country, and then, out of that patriotism, talked about some of the fundamental contradictions that we had to address in a democratic society’.5

‘I classify Martin Luther King, Jr as the second Emancipator, the first was Abraham Lincoln, at the conclusion of the Civil War. Martin Luther King, Jr was the catalyst for the second Emancipation. The forces of history helped him by converging at a significant moment, it was the zeitgeist, or spirit of time, King was the catalysts in creating the spirit of the time’.6

‘.. he articulated a radical, ethical doctrine that social justice, racial equality, and economic reform were achievable in our society through successful appeal to the conscience of the individual. He believed that despite the accretion of a historical experience that reaches back two and half centuries of slavery, it is possible to ascend to a higher plane in human relations without violence or other forms of coercive force’.1

‘ We can create the beloved community that Martin envisioned. Let us now dare to embrace this common vision and mobilise all our resources to bring it into being. Let us build a society based on hope, and let us not only dream, but create a new national unity, unburdened by bigotry and strengthened by a conscious commitment to prosperity through interracial brotherhood and sisterhood’ – Coretta Scott King 1994

Martin Luther King, Jr led a courageous life committed to the spirit of change, perhaps the revolution required today is not so much for social change but an inner revolution of the spirit where we find meaning for our lives, where we reject the easy road of apathy and indifference, where we reject materialism, substance abuse and all of the other selfish concerns which contribute to a pervasive sense of alienation, despair, and a sense of hopelessness which is pervading our society. Everything is connected, these problems are interconnected.

We need to actively work for a just society through an integrated sense of being, but we cannot afford to just wait for the day when it finally becomes a reality. We need to begin to live and work together with the faith that we are all brothers and sisters in the great human family and where each of us leads decent lives and through self-realisation attain our own inner peace and harmony; we should settle for nothing less. Now is the time and the way has been found for those who truly seek it.

To end … who can view the scene without a shiver running up the spine of Martin Luther King, Jr pulling himself to his full height to proclaim to the world that he was not going to let anybody turn him around. And with faith in his people and a relentless pursuit of their God given rights, we all will be able to join hands and say together,

‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are Free at last’


  1. The Unfinished Agenda of M.L. King, Jr in the context of the Eighties, 1985 Leo Marx and Michael R. Winston from a lecture delivered at the MIT.
  2. Martin Luther King, Jr Stride towards Freedom (New York: Harper & Brothers 1958)
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (New York: Harper & Brothers 1967)
  4. The legacy of Martin King, Jr and the New Movement for Justice, 1982 Charles S. Brown at the Massechusetts Institute of Technology.
  5. Rekindling the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr in a Time of Retrenchment: 1983 Price M. Cobbs at the Massechusetts Institute of Technology
  6. The legacy of Martin King, Jr: The Path to Human Dignity and Freedom, 1984. Helen G. Edmonds delivered at the Massechusetts Institute of Technology.

Sources Used in Preparing this Article:

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