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Community Advocacy Organization

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr: He would turn 94 this year

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Steve Schapiro

Born January 15, 1929, most of us know the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. grew up to become one of the most prominent Civil Rights leaders in the United States. We observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday January 16, 2023 this year. Here are 4 things to know about him beside his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech and iconic March on Washington:

He was an influential pastor and spiritual leader

MLK was the pastor of his home church the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a prominent site where the Civil Rights Movement was born. Every move he made was calculated through the lens of his Christianity and heart for Jesus. He also established SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) between 1954-1960 becoming a spiritual mentor to many across the country. Today, his legacy through SCLC lives on in 57 nationally-recognized chapters. His first sermon was preached at Ebnenezer in Atlanta, Georgia; thereafter, the elders licensed him in 1948. This church held a certain significance as he grew up and was baptized as a child, there.

He was a humanitarian

King showed time and time again that he cared for humans. Whether someone was a doctor or a sanitation worker, white or Black, Christian or Muslim, he exemplified his desire for unity. He took action to represent all, especially those who were voiceless within society. On the same trip to Memphis when he was assissinated April 3, 1968, King was actually there to support and speak for sanitation workers' rights as they were on strike for better working conditions. All people were important in Martin Luther King Jr.'s eyes, even those who were difficult to get along with.

He drew inspiration from Henry David Thoreau and his writings on Civil Disobidence

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws," said Martin Luther King, Jr. King believed in non-violent civil disobedience. Thoreau and King shared the same thoughts that citizens were obligated to non-violently disobey laws they believe are unlawful. "No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau,” King wrote in his autobiography. He wisely knew that sustained policy changes would only occur if enough people stood against human injustices, even if they were considered legal.

While he was non-violent, he was considered to be quite radical during that time

Many times, I find mainstream history has a hard time encapsulating the true awe of MLKs ideals; some of us, as learners and observers from younger generations, live in a rather different world now so we cannot fully grasp how radical King's thoughts, ideas, behavior and calls were during that time. A time of thick racism, segregation and downright danger for so many who spoke out against what was. Racism was considered legal. It was draped across and written into every institution and system this country had constructed.

At the time when MLK rose up, People of Color were still entrenched in the echoes of Jim Crow with some southern towns even more closely practicing the enforcement of those disenfranchising, unjust laws. Lynchings were still an occurance that went largely unpunished. Black families' houses were still being burnt to the ground. White men were still kidnapping Black women at night and returning them home after doing the unspeakable without reprimanding. Can you imagine?

Then, King came in wanting to shift it all.

He wanted all people to have access to the same justice, the same restaurants, the same lifestyles. He felt seperate would never be equal. He thought those who wanted to and could, should sit together, be together, and dwell together in the same neighborhoods. In a country where many white people wanted to 'keep it the way it had always been', this was an inconceivable ask. Even many Black folks could not imagine his vision coming to life because it had never been that way.

He was non-violent yet he was radical in his beliefs and thoughts about what could be.

He had a dream. But now, his legacy has accomplished much more: there is the manifestation.


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