Sunday, January 20, 2008

Martin Luther King Day
(January 21st, 2008)

Well I don’t usually write about secular holidays but this is one I am willing to make an exception for. The more I hear and read about this man, the more I like him. No – I don’t put him on a pedestal, and I am prepared to accept that he had human failings like other people, but he was at the front of the Civil Rights movement of America, and in that, he exhibited bravery that is seldom seen in this day and age.

I was just watching a retrospective documentary on his life on CNN, and it was very interesting to hear a first hand accounts of the people who worked closely with the man. In the past, I have heard snippets here and there, bits about the bus boycott, and the march on Washington, oh, and who hasn’t heard about the famous “I have a dream” speech, and his assassination at a motel in Memphis. It was good to hear how these things linked together. I think I need to watch that documentary again, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

On a personal note, something that really made an impact on me was the coincidence of his dates with mine. He was 39 when he was killed, – I’m 39. He died the year before I was born, 1968. I was trying to find out why the holiday is set for this time of year. It turns out his birthday was 15th January 1929, forty years, almost to the day before I was born. My brother was congratulating me yesterday on earning my degree before I turned 40 – well, I think Martin Luther King put that achievement into perspective. (This is not to say I am not pleased with my achievement. It was hard work, and I am glad I did it, though I always say that it was only with God’s help that I have succeeded.) Martin may have been a very young man, but he had an “old head” on those young shoulders. He spoke passionately and so well. He was described on that documentary as a poet. I believe that is right.

So what impresses me about Martin Luther King?

  • His resolute stand against violence. He told his followers at the end of the bus boycott, when they got back on the buses that if anyone struck them, they should not retaliate, and that if it got too difficult they should rather get off the bus and walk some more than to respond in kind. This was his consistent stand as far as I could gather.

  • His genuine belief in the Gospel. You may be sceptical, but I believe when I hear the words of Martin Luther King that they were consistent with the Gospel. In a sermon on “Loving your enemies” he said that regardless of what the white people would do to him, that he would continue to love them, and ultimately he would win. He spoke about having gone to the mountain top (after winning the Nobel prize), but having to return to the valley. In his Speech on August 23, 1963 on the steps of the Lincolm Memorial, he said “I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. (This is talking about the Second Coming).

  • He was, a humble man. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he accepted it, on behalf of the negro people who at that time still faced discrimination.

  • He was a man who did not fear man, but God. Speaking about the now famous speech in which he said “I have a dream” – his advisers had told him not to use that bit. He said, “Thank you for your counsel but now I will go and consult with my Lord.” He went ahead and said “I have a dream…” and the rest as they say is history.

Some might wonder why this white South African boy is interested in a political leader from the States. Well it goes beyond the mere coincidence of the dates, but it is because what Martin Luther King helped achieve in America, has had international implications.

It started in the USA, with the Civil rights movement where the message came loud and clear that it is not right for one race to dominate and persecute another, to use and abuse people or to regard them as inferior. It started there, but the message spread, and countries such as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Apartheid South Africa became pariah states subjected to international sanctions because of their policies of racism. It began with Martin Luther King, and spread, even after he was brutally gunned down in 1968, the effects of what he did and stood for, reverberated though history. I wish more political leaders of this era would take a leaf out of Martin Luther King’s book and be willing to stand up against injustice, rather than being the perpetrators of injustice themselves.

Who knows, but maybe on Martin Luther King Day (next year), the first black president, Barak Obama could be sworn into office.

Martin Luther King, like his namesake of the reformation, was a revolutionary. But in noting that his weapons were not AK47’s or violence, but peaceful resistance, speeches and writing, we see a man who stood up against injustice, and even though he paid an awful price for his troubles, not only in his assassination, but in his being thrown into prison numerous times, and beaten and badly treated, he refused to back down.

I honour this man.

You can read the whole text of the “I have a dream, speech” at the following link.