Daily Archives: February 17, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr.: Model Protester

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

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Martin Luther King Jr –. I have a Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial

Protests have been in the news for several years, coming out of the blue in Tunisia and spreading to the Arab nations becoming the Arab Spring. We all should remember Ferguson and the horrible continuous deaths that sparked anger, indignation and the Black Live Matter movement.

Well, 2017 is gearing up to be another year of protests. The world witnessed the Women’s March of Washington last month, and the marches around the world in solidarity of this cause. There were protests at airports after President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration went into effect. Scientists are planning to march on Earth Day in April. The protest against building two new pipelines is heating up again. Tunisian lawyers were protesting against a new tax that required them to pay a tax on each case they worked on. Students in South Africa are protesting higher fees for college education, which is similar to what happened here in recent years too. There’s even a website https://popularresistance.org that assists in organizing protests and getting the word out about them. And the protests don’t seem to be going away any time soon. The website www.change.org is also helping people find ways to protest by creating and circulating petitions.

In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at one of America’s most famous protestors and his belief in nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929 to a Black middle class family. His father had grown up on a plantation to share cropper parents, but he left as soon as he was able. He worked his way through school and was able to attend Morehouse College, which is an all-black men’s college. He became a preacher, and then married the daughter of Reverend Williams. Reverend Williams was the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church; MLK, Sr., “Daddy King” took over the duties when Williams died.

1963 March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

Both Reverend Williams and Daddy King stood against ill treatment, segregation and violence against African-Americans and MLK, Jr. followed in their footsteps. After several instances of facing white prejudice, Martin began to read about the history of his people, about slavery and the Civil War. Martin had always been taught that all people were equal, but reality was quite different, and it was his fervent desire to set it right.

He graduated from high school when he was fifteen, and attended his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College. He and other students were able to discuss prejudice and liberation of the Negroes long into the night and in many of the classes. On one of his summer vacations during college, he and some friends went to Connecticut to work on a tobacco farm, and it amazed them that they could freely go into stores, movies and restaurants.

After seriously considering a law career, he ended up majoring in sociology. But, he then began to realize that being a minister would allow him to have a closer relationship with his fellow man, and it was a good way to impart information. His friends would ask him to lead them in prayer, plus both his father and grandfather had been pastors. He hadn’t planned to become a minister, but he felt the call.

After he graduated from Morehouse, he went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. It was here that he first heard in depth about what Mahatma Gandhi was doing in India, using non-violent resistance to get the British out of India. He had heard of Gandhi’s protest in India, but this time it was first-hand information from the president of Howard University.   His interest in this type of non-violent protest had been piqued when he first read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. He was very interested in this idea of just refusing to cooperate with the entrenched system in place. As King looked deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi and civil resistance, he came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that he discovered the method for social reform that he had been seeking.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Montgomery Arrest 1958

As we remember MLK, with his birthday and also Black History Month, and as many times as we can remember his clear call for equality, we remember a leader who showed us how to protest peacefully about things we disagreed with, that we thought were immoral or needed to be fixed. Thank you Dr. King for your example.

“…The nonviolent resisters can summarize their message in the following simple terms: we will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as we see it.” (quoted from MLK’s Nobel lecture in 1964.)

Fun Fact: there was an error on his birth certificate—his name was listed as Michael Luther King. He was always supposed to be Martin, but was called Mike by his family for a long time. He was able to change and correct his name officially when he applied for his passport.

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