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Saturday, 28 September 2013

An article celebrating Dr Martin Luther King's famous speech, "I HAVE A DREAM" by Madalyn Morgan

St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 8
Madalyn Morgan 
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister, a social activist, and the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America from the mid-1950s until his death in 1968.  For tens of millions of African Americans he was the leader of their crusade for racial equality.  His was the educated voice needed to end discrimination and humiliation, and bring black Americans human dignity. 
The first I knew of the Civil Rights Movement was when I was a schoolgirl living in a small rural town in England.  I used to listen to the protest songs of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  So it is a great privilege to research and write about the icon of that movement, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and some of those who risked everything to fight for change and freedom. 

                       Martin Luther King’s dream was for racial equality
In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.  Thousands of African American families, marching peacefully, were met with violence when police set dogs on them; turned fire hoses on the children, and kicked young black men to the ground.  By the end of the march, Martin Luther King and many of his supporters were in jail.  After Birmingham, Dr King and his supporters organised a bigger, but still peaceful, demonstration.  On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 black and white people to the Lincoln Memorial.


St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 9

“We are determined to be free in 63

Martin Luther King Jr. overwhelmed by the crowds in Washington
American gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, known as The Queen of Gospel shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin, tell them about the dream, doctor.”  In the middle of his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. turned to Mahalia Jackson and stopped speaking.  A second later, he began the speech again with those immortal and heartfelt words, “I have a dream.”

Joan Baez, the American folk singer and activist, led the crowds in several verses of “We Shall Overcome” and “Oh Freedom.”  Bob Dylan sang  “When the Ship Comes In.” Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had a Hammer” and Bob Dylan's “Blowin’ in the Wind” - a political song adressing the subjects of murder and civil rights. [A song that I play today, on my radio show.]

A man who found his mission and became something else
Martin Luther King grew up in Atlanta Georgia.  He was born on January 15th, 1929 to Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King.  He was Christened, Michael King Jr. and had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.  Michael Sr. adopted the name Martin Luther King, in honour of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther.  Some years later, Michael Jr. adopted the name for himself.  

Martin’s childhood was not an easy one.  As well as the difficulties that all black people experienced in the 1940s and 50s, his beloved grandmother died.  Unable to cope with the loss, the grieving twelve year old tried to commit suicide (it is alleged) when he jumped out of an upstairs window.  He became precocious.  He didn’t attend ninth, or eleventh grade, but entered the Morehouse College in Atlanta when he was fifteen.  He was a good looking boy and popular with his fellow students – especially the female ones. 

For the first couple of years Martin questioned religion, saying he wouldn’t enter the ministry.  However, after taking Bible classes, his faith was renewed.  He earned a sociology degree from Morehouse and went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary, in Chester Pennsylvania.  He excelled in all of his studies, was valedictorian of his class in 1951, elected student body president, and given a fellowship for graduate study.       
In his final year, Martin’s mentor was theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who became the most important influence in his intellectual and spiritual development.  Martin was offered places at Yale, Edinburgh in Scotland, and Boston University.  He chose Boston.  It was while he was studying that he met, Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory School in Boston.

Married in June 1953 Martin and Coretta had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice.  In 1954, while working on his dissertation, Martin became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery.  In 1955, after completing his Ph.D. he was awarded his degree.  He was twenty-five.  

Montgomery City Bus Boycott

In March of that year, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl, sitting in the coloured section of a Montgomery City bus, was told to give up her seat to a white man.  Claudette refused and was arrested.  Claudette was pregnant.  The incident was considered by the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). They thought that it would help their case against Montgomery City's Segregated Bus Policy.  However, the civil rights leaders were concerned that because Claudette Colvin was pregnant at fifteen, it would be a scandal for the religious black community and make their case less credible to the whites.
Their chance came in December of that year when 42-year-old Rosa Parks, on her way home from work, sat in the first row of the “coloured” section of the Cleveland Avenue bus.  When the bus was full, several white men were standing.  The black passengers were ordered to give up their seats to the white passengers.  Three African Americans reluctantly did as they were told, but Rosa refused and was arrested for violating the Montgomery City Code.  At her trial she was found guilty and ordered to pay $10 and $4 court costs. 

On the night Rosa Parks was arrested there was a meeting between the head of the local NAACP, Martin Luther King Jr. and half a dozen local civil rights leaders.  The outcome was a citywide bus boycott.  For 382 days, Montgomery’s African American community walked, putting up with harassment, intimidation and violence.  King's home, and the home of the NAACP leader, was vandalised, but it did not stop them.  The black community took legal action against the city regulation arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's “separate is never equal.”  (A phrase derived from the 1890 Louisiana law “equal but separate”).  Eventually, after being defeated in several courts and suffering huge financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the rule on segregation on public transport.

St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 10

Nobel Peace Prize for 1964
In 1865, the House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in America.  The amendment read, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  (Slavery did still exist, but that’s another story.)  In 1964, the American people began to question almost 100 years of second-class treatment of African-American citizens.  This resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorising the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities.  It also led to Martin Luther King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Luther King Jr’s rise to prominence
On March 7, 1965, Dr King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began a drive to win voting rights for African Americans.  Civil Rights activists marched peacefully from Selma to Alabama's capital Montgomery, where state troopers with nightsticks and tear gas tried to stop them crossing the Edmond Pettus Bridge.  Dr King was not on the march, but the television cameras were – and the American people watched as nonviolent demonstrators were brutally beaten.  Seventeen people were hospitalised that day.  A day known ever since as, “Bloody Sunday.”  A restraining order stopped a second march, but a third took place with Dr King marching on the front line.  On March 16th, 1965, a different tack was taken.  Two thousand five hundred marchers, black and white, set out again to cross the Pettus Bridge.  Confronted by barricades and state troopers, Dr King knelt in prayer.  His followers knelt beside him.  When they had finished praying they stood up and walked back.  That was a significant day for African Americans.  Less than five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On 6 August 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, calling the day ‘‘A triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.”  And after speaking about slavery he said, “Today we strike away those shackles and ancient bonds.”   

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act with Dr King and family looking on.

From 1965 to 1967, Dr King’s Civil Rights Movement spread to other major American cities.  However, his non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many black militants who considered his methods passive, weak, and too late.  To address this criticism, Dr King linked discrimination with poverty.  He formed a multiracial coalition to address the economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.  Later he extended his civil rights efforts to the Vietnam War, saying America's involvement was discriminatory to the poor. 

If we shoot men of peace, we are left with men of violence
Martin Luther King said, “If a man doesn’t find something he’d give his life for, he ain’t fit to live.”  He did find something, and he did give his life for it. 

“Like anybody,” he said, “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!”  Dr Martin Luther King Jr. made that speech on April 3, 1968.  The following day he was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

At the root of Dr King’s civil rights conviction was his faith in the basic goodness of man, and the great potential of American democracy.  “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all men.

“Let freedom ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state, and we will speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”

St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 11

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in West Potomac Park Washington DC stands near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and on a sightline linking the Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and the Jefferson Memorial to the southeast.


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change.
Courage to change the things I can.
Wisdom to know the difference.

(Reinhold Niebuhr - 1892-1971)

 St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Pages 8 – 11

Information and quotes sourced from Martin Luther King Jr’s biography, The New York Times, and the written reports of several Civil Rights witnesses.  Photographs: OPA Online Public Access, Stock photographs, Free Liberal and Google Free photographs.