Photo courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov
Of all the civil rights leaders that have spoken for generations of underprivileged people, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. have always resonated with me the most. His deeply moving messages are felt in the hearts and minds of Americans today, and I believe they will be felt for generations to come.
But, why? What is it about this passionate orator and leader that hate and, more literally, a bullet couldn’t stop? The answer is simple and can be found within the early stages of King’s leadership.
On Sept. 30, 1956, King’s house was bombed by those who opposed the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which King helped to lead. After the bombing destroyed a portion of King’s house, around 300 African-Americans arrived at King’s residence, demanding that justice be served by any means necessary. What King said to the angry mass is unthinkable and encapsulates what I believe is so impressive about the messages he promoted. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, which published a story about the incident the day after the bombing, King’s response to his frustrated supporters was as follows,
“We believe in law and order. Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them, love them and let them know you love them. I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known through the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped this movement will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”
Instead of the popular idea of taking revenge and responding with violence or anger, King decided to fight back with love. He decided to fight back with the only weapon his enemies did not possess. This is why King’s messages of spreading love and peace in the face of hate and bigotry are still relevant and palpable today.
Fast forward several years later, and King had become the voice of the civil rights movement in the ‘60s. He had also become an even bigger target. On April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. But, his message lived on, and his love lived on. And this is something that I think King knew, despite the dangers that his message brought. In his famous “mountaintop” speech, King stated,
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
King knew the sacrifice he bore, and, more importantly, he knew that the fruits of that sacrifice could not be defeated by death. He opened the country’s eyes to the possibility of the Promised Land, and that can never be forgotten.
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Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero to me, because although he was hated by many he still chose peace over violence. King chose civil disobedience. He chose not to retaliate. I’m not a violent person, so I can relate to King’s views. I believe in equal opportunity for everyone, and I believe that can be achieved through working together. He was assassinated 50 years ago, and still his dream lives on. Still, there is much racial divide in this country that needs to be overcame. Through Martin’s philosophy of nonviolence, progress can be made. The article applauds King’s courageous move not to turn to revenge for the bombing of his home. “I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them, love them and let them know you love them,” said King. That resonates with me because that was brave. He lived by the scriptures in the Bible, and told them to his angry supporters who wanted to cause more harm. I appreciate how the author of this article wrote, “King decided to fight back with love. He decided to fight back with the only weapon his enemies did not possess.” Martin Luther King Jr’s most famous speech is probably his “I Have a Dream” speech, but my favorite of his is the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. King delivered it the day before he was assassinated. I appreciate that this article mentions this speech. I remember hearing it for the first time sitting in a college history classroom. I remember how it made me feel. I was sad, but I knew that King knew that his efforts weren’t in vain. It made me feel connected to King although I’ve never met him. “We, as a people, will get to the promised land,” he said. This comforted me as an African American, because I don’t have to experience all of the discrimination they went through. He didn’t just march for the people living at that time, but also for future generations. Although discrimination still happens, this country has come a long way in civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. led the way for many, and he did this through love. He will always be one of my heroes and role models.
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