We think we know the man we’re honoring today because of his accomplishments, but there is so much more to him than those already well-known facts. Born on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. became an activist and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. This man became most well known for his advancement of civil rights and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. What I didn’t know, however, was a lot more about the man himself, his story, his struggles and the personal accomplishments that he achieved in his too short 39 years. After learning more about him, I really have more admiration for the man than I had before. Overcoming many obstacles and achieving many successes at such an early age, he remained true to himself, his values, and his beliefs. That’s something to admire, both in a leader and in an individual.
Following are some of the many things that I think most of us are unaware of…and I would encourage you to read more about him (here from Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr
- When he was a child, he was friends with a white boy but, at the age of 6, they had to attend separate schools due to the law of segregation. They were no longer allowed to be friends because his friend’s father would not allow it.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered from depression throughout much of his life and, at the age of 12, after the death of his grandmother, he blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window…and survived.
- In high school, he joined the debate team due to his recognized ability in public speaking. At 13 years old, he became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station.
- During his junior year of high school, he took an exam, passed, and entered Morehouse College, a respected, historically black college. He graduated from Morehouse in 1948, at the age of 19, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. At 26 years old, he received his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Boston University.
- He was 26 years old when he led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. It was his role in this boycott that catapulted him into being a well-known spokesman for the civil rights movement and received national recognition.
- He was only 34 years old when he helped to organize the march on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech which, incidentally, was not part of his prepared text! The following year, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequity through nonviolent resistance.
Martin Luther King, Jr. spent several years fighting injustice and standing up for civil rights. The historical influence of his protesting (and the non-violent manner that he utilized) cannot be overstated. At 39 years old, his assassination rocked the nation and led to race riots throughout dozens of cities. President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a national day of mourning and Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy urged supporters to continue on the path of non-violence.
There is so much more to this man than his successes, but we cannot ignore the impact that he has had on our nation. His major legacy was, of course, on civil rights. Within days of his assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights act of 1968. Posthumously, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The fact that he accomplished so much in his lifetime is a testament to his drive and his beliefs. I think now, more than in the recent past, his life, his legacy, and his accomplishments are something that we need to revisit. Obviously we, as a people, seem to have had more disagreements recently over race, violence, and politics than in recent memory. I think a reminder of how far we’ve come and what we can accomplish, both on an individual and organizational level, is a good thing today. We cannot overstate the growth and success that we’ve had, but we can also not dismiss the vigilance and continued efforts necessary to ensure further growth, acceptance, and peace in our nation.