Miseducated by negative stereotypes and fueled by the byproducts thereof– paranoia and fear– law enforcement has pitted itself against our inner city citizens. In turn, a ripping of outrage has run throughout our nation. This unrest has caused us to banner our message of peace and equality and raise our consciousness in provocation, rather than our fists, thus drawing out the poison of these societal sores. These peaceful demonstrations, from Jena, LA to Ferguson, MO, throwback to the nonviolent strategies of the father of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. on January 15th, 1929 and his message of nonviolence was born in the early teachings that he received from his father, Michael King Sr., who was a baptist minister in Atlanta, GA. Biography.com tells us that: “Michael King Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church upon the death of his father-in-law in 1931 and adopted the name, Martin Luther King Sr., in honor of the German Protestant, Martin Luther, who was a devout monk and teacher of Theology”. Biography.com also tells us that: “Martin Luther King Sr. fought against racial prejudice, not just because his race suffered, but because he considered racism and segregation to be an affront to God’s will. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.”
Leaving the black and white of Martin Jr.’s background, his childhood was ‘undoubtedly’ colored with the scenes of devotion that took place between the walls of Ebenezer. Can’t we see a young Martin Jr. uncomfortably stirred with hearing his father’s booming voice raging to shrill pitch as he passionately preached the tenets of Christianity that echoed the very principles of Human Rights? It was those scenes, Sunday after Sunday, that first facilitated Martin Jr.’s then fledgling belief that, as images of God, all humans have God given rights to be treated fairly and equally.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Martin Jr. took the the title of Martin Luther before studying at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University respectively and ultimately becoming a Dr. of Theology himself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would go on to preach the importance of nonviolence in the face of the enemies of equality, from his own pool pit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, to a racially burdened and downtrodden, black community in Montgomery, Alabama. In its detailing of the foundation of Dr. King Jr.’s nonviolence philosophy, Peacemagazine.com reports: “It was with a strong Christian faith in hand that Martin Luther King Jr. embarked upon his formal education. Henry David Thoreau’s essay, ‘Civil Disobedience,’ was his first intellectual contact with the theory of nonviolence and resistance.” Peacemagazine.com further denotes that it was: “primarily Thoreau’s concept of refusing to cooperate with an evil system which so intrigued Dr. King Jr.”. Dr. King Jr. went on to say: “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
An onslaught of injustice would cause Dr. King Jr. to change his pool pit position for a more visible and vocal one in the streets aside his people, but his message of love operating through nonviolence was prevalent. “Already an active member of the NAACP, Dr. King Jr. was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the civil rights movement in 1957”, according to Nobelprize.com. “The ideas for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Ghandi”, says Nobelprize.com. As president of the SCLC, Dr. King Jr. rallied for human rights in Washington, DC and then marched into Alabama in 1963 using peaceful resistance to enact desegregation and equal employment opportunities in Birmingham. Stanford.edu says: “On Good Friday, 12 April, King was arrested in Birmingham after violating the anti-protest injunction and was kept in solitary confinement. During this time, King penned the ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’’ on the margins of the Birmingham News, in reaction to a statement published in that newspaper by eight Birmingham clergymen condemning the protests.” Dr. King Jr. responds: “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”
Elsewhere heralding his message and holding fast to his faith, Dr. King Jr. led the citizens of Selma, Alabama as they peaceably paced down Edmund Pettus Bridge in resistance to racial discrimination in voting in 1965. History.com reports: “In early 1965, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made Selma, Alabama, the focus of its efforts to register black voters in the South. That March, protesters attempting to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery were met with violent resistance by state and local authorities. As the world watched, the protesters (under the protection of federalized National Guard troops) finally achieved their goal, walking around the clock for three days to reach Montgomery. The historic march, and King’s participation in it, greatly helped raise awareness of the difficulty faced by black voters in the South, and the need for a Voting Rights Act, passed later that year.”
Dr. King Jr. was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in commendation of his worldwide crusades to uphold his message of nonviolence, a message that infuses the very meaning of protest today. In raising our voices in indifference, we remember Dr. King Jr. saying: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”