Martin Luther King, Jr. – Dissident Preacher with a Dream

10 Dissidents Who Changed the World: #7

7The death of Martin Luther King, Jr., still doesn’t sate the hate of some people. The man may have wanted all races to get along and live together, they’ll say, but he was a hypocritical minister, a sexual-degenerate womanizer, and an American-hating Communist.

But I know this: In 1955 a black person could get killed for using a “whites-only” water fountain in America.

Now? That world is almost unbelievably ancient history.

Despite any flaws in his character, nobody was more responsible for washing away America’s racial ignorance and leading the country through a painful but necessary bout of growing up than Martin Luther King, Jr.

Atlanta: Birthplace of MLK’s Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr.When MLK was a child in Atlanta, his number one dream was playing shortstop, not becoming a preacher like his dad — Daddy King, they called him.

At five years old, Martin often played baseball with neighborhood friends Clark and Wallace, the sons of a nearby grocer. But when his friends entered segregated school, his playmates’ parents told Martin that their boys were getting too old to mess around with colored people.

At that time, dark-skinned Americans had to enter grocery stores through back entrances. They had to try on shoes in the rear of shoe stores. They had to give up their bus seats to people with light skin. They had to step off the sidewalk when light-skinned people passed. They had to use different water fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, and schools.

At that time, it was the norm to be a racist in America.

And yet, Martin, along with his younger brother and older sister, also experienced the conventional side of American childhood…

Their mom, a schoolteacher, made them take piano lessons, which Martin hated. Martin had a paper route. And like most kids, he did the occasional really dumb thing…like jumping out of the 2nd floor window of his house when he was eight, and once knocking himself out sliding down the stairway banister.

Martin’s mother taught him to read before he went to school, and he was such a good student that he skipped grades. He was a good athlete, too, and played quarterback for the high school football team.

After graduating early at the age of 15, he got a B.A. degree in sociology from Morehouse College. But a 2.48 grade point average reflected his indifference. A junior year Bible class, however, renewed Martin’s religious faith. Following in his father’s spiritual footsteps as a minister, he decided to attend three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

MLK’s Dissident Education at Crozer

Martin and Coretta KingSeveral special things happened at Crozer:

MLK also won a fellowship at Crozer that allowed him to enroll in graduate studies at Boston University. Not only did he earn his doctorate while in Boston; he also met — and married — a beautiful and smart lady studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her name was Coretta Scott.

MLK and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Martin Luther King, Jr.In 1954, MLK accepted a position as minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

As fate would have it, the next year a volunteer NAACP secretary, after working all day at the Montgomery Fair department store, boarded a bus and sat in the first row of empty seats in the black section. When the white section filled up, the bus driver asked the lady to move to the back of the bus so a white man could have her seat. The lady refused. Her name was Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks was arrested. The NAACP and several organizations gathered to plan a boycott, and MLK was chosen to lead it.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted over a year. During that time, MLK was arrested and his house was bombed. One night, he received a threatening phone call at midnight: “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

As MLK tells it in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, he went into his kitchen and prayed, and then, “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”

So, he kept standing up. In 1956, the United States Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation on all public transportation.

Standing Up for Civil Rights

Martin and Coretta KingIn the following years, MLK was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was formed to provide leadership for the civil rights movement. He traveled the world, and gave over 2,500 speeches. He wrote five books. He planned voter registration drives in his home state of Alabama, and marched from Selma to Montgomery. He led a peaceful 250,000-person march on Washington, D.C., conferred with President John F. Kennedy, and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

He was bugged and smeared by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. And in late 1964, the FBI even sent King a tape recorded from bugs hidden in his hotel room that may have captured an illicit affair. Accompanying the tape: an anonymous note urging Martin to kill himself. The FBI also sent a recording to his wife.

In addition to the FBI’s attempts to end his life and his marriage, the man was stabbed and assaulted at least four times. He was arrested over twenty times. He was also named Time magazine’s 1963 Man of the Year. And, at 35, he became the youngest man to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

MLK’s Legacy

Martin Luther King, Jr.On April 4, 1968, Martin was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He left behind a wife and four children.

The world remembers him as the most famous leader of the American civil rights movement. America remembers him as one of its greatest orators. His daughter, Yolanda, remembers him like this:

My father was a buddy-daddy. He really spent most of his time with us playing, having fun, doing things that children love to do, which is, of course, play. He didn’t believe in spanking kids. Of course, my mother said if he had spent more time with us, he probably would have changed his mind [laughs]. But when he was with us, he really just loved us. Loved on us.

And the time was short, but it was quality time. And my dad was really quite a funny man. He was a bit of a cut-up. He was a jokester. He loved to tease, he loved to laugh. He probably could have been quite an athlete as well. He taught me to swim when I was four and taught me how to ride a tricycle and then into a bicycle, and we played basketball and baseball and went to the local amusement park. He and I, the two of us, would ride the dangerous shake-you-up rides, he called them “faith machines.” We’d get on them and just have a ball, he was a big kid.

I realize, now, that those were the times – some of the few times – when he really had to let his hair down and relax. So, that playful side of him, which was very much a part of who he was, he shared with us. And I’m thankful for that, because the Martin Luther King, Jr. that I know – the Daddy that I know – was a very different person from Martin Luther King, Jr. that everybody reveres.

Maybe most of all, what he meant to his children makes Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my favorite 10 Dissidents Who Changed the World.

* * *

Go to the next article in this series:
Sibel Edmonds – Dissident FBI Whistleblower.

Go to the previous article in this series:
Daniel Ellsberg – Dissident Leaker of Pentagon Papers.

Go to the series index:
10 Dissidents Who Changed the World.

[tags]Martin Luther King, MLK, dissident, civil rights, racism, assassination, I have a dream[/tags]

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14 Responses to Martin Luther King, Jr. – Dissident Preacher with a Dream

  1. Lynne says:

    Someday people will look back at homophobia with the same sense of wonder.

  2. JoeC says:

    I hope you’re right. Homophobia, xenophobia…if there ARE aliens out there, it’s understandable why they don’t make a public landing, because they see how people who are different get treated on Earth. But maybe things will come around…

  3. Brent says:

    It shows that in the end, people that use hatred and fear for purposes usually lose because their arguments are proven false.

  4. LaSirena says:

    There is a Native American legend that talks about the different colored people of the world. According to it, the light-skinned people are like the littlest sibling and sometimes spoiled and bratty and arrogant b/c so young.

    Anyway, once again really enjoying the dissident series. Like the refreshing pov of the daughter — describing a playful, human MLK.

  5. JoeC says:

    Brent: agree…in the end hate and fear lose out and love wins……..and isn’t that what the Beatles said all along? ;-)

    La Sirena: Cool, fitting legend. And I liked the daughter’s pov, too. I’ve heard about MLK all my life, but always seen pictures of him looking really somber and serious, but reading some stuff about him for this post, I got a completely different “feel” for the guy’s personality…he was apparently a very fun, humerous guy who smiled a lot, too, just that from the time he moved to Montgomery onward, he was under an incredible amount of stress. I enjoyed replacing that somber image with a happy one, in my own mind at least…good to “see” Martin happy for a change.

  6. Xman says:

    When he was alive, I never paid any attention to him. First, I recall my folks and their friends talking about him and other blacks as “uppitty young bucks”, “trouble makers”, etc. I recall asking and trying to understand. Because he was “black” seemed to be the main reason. Without taking any credit for being enlightened, I do recall being frustrated in not getting a real reason that I could understand. But, then I entered the girl crazy faze of my life and then he got killed.
    It has only been the last few years that I have found out for myself what a truely amazing person he was. I find myself listening to someone reading a great speech and am surprised to find it was written by him. Or I have found myself listening to a tape or film of him and wondering how I could have missed this genius of a man for most of my life. For all those years I just never listened. Never looked below the surface or cared enough to see why so many people loved him and why every town has a MLK Drive or street. I still marvel that a man could have learned so much under such repression.

  7. JoeC says:

    Xman: I think back over what I’ve done in the last 13 years, since 1994. A lot HAS happened, but not nearly as much stuff as MLK packed into those last 13 years of his life…truly an amazing soul, and truly the right person at the right time.

  8. Pete says:

    I have to agree that the man was a great orator, but when a man amasses a small fortune in fighting for the poor and oppressed, I tend to question his motivation, and his greatness.

  9. JoeC says:

    Pete: When MLK died, I don’t think he was a very wealthy man…not by CEO standards, anyway. And when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he donated the $54,000 prize money to civil rights groups. After he died, the family has tried to make money off his name, but that’s not MLK’s fault. Anyway, even if he was really a rich selfish bastard, he did get things to change that, without his input, might have taken several more generations to happen. (Just my opinion, of course…I know a lot of people disagree…)

  10. Pete says:

    At least action was taken, not like today, when everyone expects someone else to make the sacrifice, or do what is needed.

  11. Shatoya says:

    I find martin luther king to be a good influence on others and younger kids. and i am happy that he made equality work out and all races work together.

  12. JoeC says:

    Shatoya: I agree. MLK wasn’t perfect (who is?) but he was the perfect person at that time to start bringing an end to racism in America. He studied and learned a lot from Ghandi, and likewise, we can study and learn a lot from him.

  13. Gordon says:

    Shouldn’t there be something here about his efforts to mobilize the poor, shortly before his assassination? Perhaps that was why the line was drawn there and then? After all, racism is just one particular form of group-selfishness, whereas campaigning against the existence of poverty gets closer to the heart of selfishness itself. The hydra guards against the loss of one of its heads with repression and beatings, but guards its heart with murder.

    Reinhold Niebuhr was an immensely significant thinker who deserves more attention; if anything he had a thing or two to teach even Ghandi, in this humble scribbler’s opinion.

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