Martin Luther King is a man one could consider as a Christian politician. From the devoted activities he had done while he was still living, he proved himself not only an activist, but also a committed lover of the poor, the oppressed, and the abused. He was an African-American who felt the palpable discrimination regarding his skin color, yet he refused to let those discriminating comments pull him down and stop him from speaking up for the marginalized. It is in this kind of harsh environment that he learned the injustice happening not just in his hometown, but everywhere. His Christian educational background affected his political ideas on society, which he always applied as he led movements and protests supporting the unprivileged.
Political and Social Ideas of Martin Luther King
The political and social ideas of Martin Luther King greatly affected the course of American history. Before, election of a non-Caucasian president was thought of as impossible, because of the biasness of society in terms of skin color. But when King boldly presented himself before the public and represented the marginalized sector of society (i. e. the African-American, the poor, the abused, etc.), things have changed—society realized what has been their attitude towards this community, and slowly, equality in terms of rights and privileges was realized (Reddick, 1959, p. 7).
Martin Luther King is remembered as one of the few people, a hero in his generation, who stood up and spoke up not just for himself, but for his fellowmen as well. He did not let his upbringing blind him into believing what society has dictated a long time ago. Instead, he boldly thought out of the box—different of what is usual, and instigated change in the society (Adams, 1963, p. 106).
Who Martin Luther King Is
The man famously known as Martin Luther King was originally named Michael Luther King, Jr. on January 15, 1929. It was his choice to change his name to Martin later on in his life.
His family was a family of pastors, starting from his grandfather who served as a pastor in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta from 1914 to 1931. After that, his father, Michael Luther King, Sr. succeeded the footsteps of his grandfather, faithfully serving as a senior pastor in the same church. During this time, upon receiving proper Christian education, Martin served as co-pastor in the said church until his father’s death in 1960 (Haberman, 1972).
Martin Luther finished both his elementary and secondary education in Georgian public schools, graduating at the age of fifteen. Upon receiving his B. A. degree in the same institution as his forefathers graduated in Atlanta, Morehouse College, which is a notable Negro institution, in 1948, he later took theological courses for his pastoral ministry (Bennet, 1964). He studied for three years in Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and there he became an active participant in the campus, particularly in his batch, that gained him favor to become the elected president of a predominantly white skin-colored senior class (Haberman, 1972).
He met and married in Boston the young and witty Coretta Scott, and her wife bore her two sons and two daughters (Adams, 1963, p. 107).
His career as an active participant in different movements and organizations for civil rights for members of his ethnicity started in the 1950s. In 1954, his family moved in Montgomery, Alabama and there he became a pastor in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (Haberman, 1972). By this time, he was elected an officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading group of its sort in the state (Adams, 1963, p. 106).
By December the following year, he took responsibility for the first massive Negro nonviolent protest of that time in the states, a bus boycott as described by Gunnar Jahn. Because of his participation in such movements, he was arrested, his home was bombed, he and his family was threatened, yet he continued with his struggle with the marginalized community (Haberman, 1972).
And on the night of April 4, 1968, the night before he was to lead a protest march in commiseration with the protesting workers in Memphis, Tennessee, he was shot dead (Haberman, 1972).
Martin and the American Society
In Martin’s society, the African-American, whether a man or a woman, is expected to stand and give up his/her seat to a Caucasian—a much too blatant mistreatment to Martin’s race. Such scenario is really discriminating, and the Negroes could not do anything in opposition to this tradition, because government officials were Caucasians as well—favoring their fellowmen right or wrong.
But a young woman by the name of Rosa Parks, an active member of a civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, decided to boldly start change and chose not to give up her seat in the bus for a Caucasian.
This created chaos, arresting Parks, which provoked rallies and protests demanding not only her freedom, but justice and equality being served to Negroes in particular. The famous bus boycott was successful; regulating the bus segregation unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court.
In this time, Martin led an organization, Montgomery Improvement Association that headed the aforementioned boycott. And in this protest did he emerge as a national figure, actively leading and encouraging civil rights movements (MSN Encarta, 2006).
The injustice that started in the 18th century, continued a hundred years later. But that did not mean that only after a hundred years did society took notice of such discrimination. Civil rights movements have spread throughout the country, causing death to multitudes of people from violent protests and movements (MSN Encarta, 2006).
Six Points to Non-Violent Resistance
Martin Luther King’s most famous philosophy is centered in non-violent resistance. His approach in advancing the objectives of the civil rights movement is peaceful and understanding (MSN Encarta, 2006).
In 1948, he started gaining knowledge and information about the Christian doctrines, teachings and lessons that prepared him for his pastor leadership. By this time, he was completely aware of the injustice and inequality most vibrant in his state, and the existence of civil rights movements.
As he further studied the Christian bible and its different interpretations based from the original writings, he was empowered by the teachings about God’s love. He was so engrossed with the topic that he studied further about what this intangible term meant. He had so much faith in the power that love can do. Thus, his faith combined with assertion of civil rights gave birth to the philosophy of non-violent resistance.
There are six points to Martin’s faith in non-violent resistance (Haberman, 1972).
His first argument was about cowardice. Non-violent resistance is not about retreating from battle and hiding in one’s safe shelter. Rather, it is a method of resisting in a calm manner. In this way, protesters are advised to be very patient in demanding for their rights. In due time, their patience would surely pay off.
Second is that the civil rights movement is not really focused on the individuals. Instead, one should keep in mind that all of us are human and it is only natural for us to go wrong. The real opponents are the evil forces: injustice, inequality, etc. Indeed, hate the actions, not the people themselves.
Third, as one realizes that the real war wages between good and evil, and not among men, the point of nonviolent resistance is to obtain other people’s trust, rather than have them burn for shame. Moral shame or conscience is the very target of nonviolent resistance, capturing the heart for reconciliation instead of bitterness.
His fourth argument was nonviolent resistors’ willingness to suffer. Suffering is something that one cannot escape from, and it is especially part of fighting for one’s rights. It is like saying “no pain, no gain.” To accept suffering and to be willing to be subjected to suffering, according to Martin, is a powerful tool for asserting one’s rights (MLK Online, 2005).
Fifth, he argued about the “cosmic relationship” of events. “Everything will be fine in the end.” In the near future, no matter long it would take, justice will eventually be served, and the activist believes that his/her dream will be fully realized.
And sixth, the message of love imbibed in nonviolent resistance. Physical violence not only deforms the body, but also corrupts the spirit. And a corrupted spirit is weak in living the life s/he deserves to live, which is the point of civil rights movements.
In the course of history, this form of protest that demanded change in the system in a non-violent way has proven itself to be the most effective in achieving its goals for individuals, especially the oppressed.
The idea of the oppressed loving the oppressors would be difficult to imagine, but bear in mind though that it is not exactly impossible.
He was the peaceful catalyst of change, and his style was likened to Mahatma Gandhi, believing in the power of peaceful arrangements with the Caucasians. He successfully won, and gained favor from his fellowmen, though for every successful move of his, more and more Caucasians secretly desired his death (MSN Encarta, 2006).
The New State: Justice and Equality Served
The experiences of Martin as his notable opinions on justice and equality were accepted by the society was no different from that experienced by the older batch of protesters and movement leaders. Though his approach was more peaceful than usual, society did not treat him as fairly as one would expect. Instead, violence was the usual response (BBC, 2005).
But his efforts were not wasted. His peaceful approach, copying Gandhi’s nonviolent, passive style of protest, started change in society.
Though violent response from the Caucasians was not much noticed, the Negroes learned less violent ways of asserting their rights and privileges. One less violent person is much better than no peaceful man at all (BBC, 2005).
Perhaps the most distinguished change Martin caused in American society is giving the Negroes the privilege to vote. He led the campaign for such purpose in 1965, and a year later, he succeeded as a bill was passed ordering that skin color should not hinder anyone of his/her voting rights (BBC, 2005).
Martin Luther King on Society and Politics
Racism was not part of the vocabulary in Luther’s idea of society. He thought of the world as a happy place, treating one another fairly. Through the different speeches he delivered and written materials he had published, he called forth to his fellow discriminated men to assert their rights instead of leaving tradition as is.
But not only did he believe in the assertiveness an individual should gain in order to have what s/he deserves; he also emphasized the importance of getting one’s rights and privileges the right and peaceful way. He was legalistic, yet he proved his approaches effective and time-tested (Garrow, 1998).
The Lutheran Dream
One of the many famous speeches Martin delivered was on August 28, 1963 at Washington, D. C. The speech as entitled “I Have a Dream,” calling forth to his fellow Americans for equality long overdue to be served to the Negroes. His speech reminded the people of the decreed signed for their emancipation years before he delivered his speech. He said:
… Years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of… material prosperity… (yet) the Negro… (still)… finds himself an exile in his own land. (MLK Online, 2005)
Martin delivered this speech as he participated in an enormous civil rights march in Washington, holding on to the hope that one day, what he and the others who came before him would sooner or later see the fruits of their labor for fighting for their freedom. He predicted that soon enough, the struggle would end, not because all there was to hope for is lost, but because Negroes will finally be content, treated fairly and equally (BBC, 2005).
King on the War in Viet Nam
Being a peaceful Christian, and adapting the serene techniques of Gandhi in protests, Martin condemned the war in Viet Nam. Even though such country was miles away from his, he disapproved of Americans participating, even starting, in the said war (MLK Online, 2005).
King believed in the power of choice—the right of every man, wherever continent he may come from or whatever ethnicity he belongs to. In his speech, he declared that as Americans should declare their own freedom, so should they liberate other countries from their military arm.
There are infinitely many ways one could do to help another country, and Martin firmly believed that negotiating peacefully, instead of supporting the war as the military Americans did, is the answer (MLK Online, 2005).
The Lutheran Society
Again, Martin Luther King’s ideal society can be considered, in his time, naïve. Even today, his “dream” of a just and fair nation is not fully realized.
Martin, a devoted Christian and faithful pastor, had a different approach in getting the equality that belonged to them a long time ago. He did not just assert the rights and privileges of his fellow African-American, he also still considered the rights and privileges of others (Garrow, 1998).
From his point of view, one has power to deserve the freedom that rightfully belongs to him/her without eliminating the same freedom that rightfully belongs to others as well (Garrow, 1998).
Violence is not the only resort if one wants freedom from oppression and abuse. Negotiation should always be the first means of settling disputes and misunderstandings. Important matters are much well said and understood under calm and peaceful situations (Reddick, 1959, p. 7).
His dream of a nation without inequality and injustice does not only apply in American grounds, but in every continent that screams for justice from the oppressed, abused and marginalized.
Perhaps the proof of the realization of his dream would be the nomination, if not the election, of an African-American as candidate for Office of Presidency.
Letter from the Birmingham Jail
The “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” was written on April 16, 1963, while he was detained in the said place. Because of the work he does and the movements and organizations he actively participates in, many people criticize him. But oftentimes, Martin wisely chooses to disregard such criticisms and side comments, and instead choose to finish the work that needs to be finished in order to help more people than himself alone (MLK Online, 2005).
This letter was perhaps the first and the only answer he has made in his whole life that answered and dealt with all the issues and criticisms thrown at him. His opening statement was:
… Seldom do I… answer criticism of my work… If I (did)… my secretaries would have little time for anything… and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that… your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want… to answer your statements in… patient and reasonable terms. (MLK Online, 2005)
Again, he emphasized in his letter the importance of asserting one’s rights and privileges, instead of waiting for someone else to impose them on him/her. In his words, rights and privileges are yours and yours alone—nobody can take them away from you unless you allow them to do so, and nobody will practice them but you alone (MLK Online, 2005).
His letter did not focus on explaining why and how he got himself incarcerated in Birmingham. Maximizing all his opportunities to speak up and deliver his message to all ears that would listen, he explained instead the cause of what he was fighting for. He likened himself to the Apostle Paul and believed in task assigned by God to him—in the great commission that has been leading him and his organization to different parts of the country (Garrow, 1998).
Where to go Now
Being head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he delivered an annual report of progress during conventions. At the 11th annual convention held on the 16th of August, 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia, he delivered his annual report, a speech now known as “Where Do We Go from Here?”
In this talk, he received many feedbacks and comments from his audience. Even as he spoke the words, both criticisms and affirmations were heard. His speech, like all the other speeches he delivered, was honest, straight to the point, clear, and realistic in providing solutions.
This speech tackled once again the issue of racism and the power of the constitution. He emphasized the issue of a Negro being only considered as half an individual that he should be. A Negro’s skin color is judged before he is given the privilege that the constitution has declared rightfully his.
American government has indeed formulated a constitution with all its by-laws that respects and emphasizes the rights and privileges of Americans not granted to them when they were still in war.
Yet these rights and privileges were given to the Caucasians alone, leaving behind and forgetting the Negroes who are undeniably part of American history.
Upon the July 4 decree of emancipation, the foreigners of American land did withdraw their power over the state and habitants of the state.
Yet the Caucasians took over their role—oppressing the other half of American population, which consisted of the Negroes.
As he closed his speech, he reminded his audience of the dream he had in mind that he delivered in his speech, “I Have a Dream.” He imposed the task of asserting his/her rights and privileges and protecting liberation from those who threaten to take it away.
He firmly believes in the full realization of his dream—only if each one will work together for that one purpose of equality and justice. He admits that he cannot do it alone, he would need the help not just of some but of all (Burke, 2005).
No Sense for Waiting
In his speech entitled “Why We Can’t Wait” that he delivered in 1964, Martin dealt with the same issues he was fighting for from the start, only this time from a different angle—with different perspective.
Racial issues of equality and discrimination has been discussed over the past hundred of years, even before the birth of Martin.
For Martin, the issue was no longer what was denied of the Negroes. Rather, how long overdue these rights and privileges were denied.
Martin, this time, was concerned when his dream will be fully realized.
Instead of calling forth for his fellowmen to assert their rights, he imposed the task on them to do assert their rights now—not later, or even tomorrow, but at the very moment, at the very venue.
From the idea of being liberated from social injustice and discrimination, Martin adds to his protest of liberation from racism the term “now”—no longer can he wait, and no longer should the Negroes wait (Rockwell, 2003).
Martin Luther King is a dedicated man of God. He can be considered the modern Apostle Paul, traveling the world to spread the word, and bring enlightenment to the unfortunate marginalized hidden in the dark.
His social and political ideas were not just based from history, his experiences, his learning, but they are anchored in all hopes that someday, more men will share the same passion and ideologies he has for human race.
Has Martin’s dream of liberation from slavery and all forms of injustice been realized? If not, will his beliefs be realized? And as his beliefs are realized, would it follow that it is then possible to have an African-American as the state President in the years to come?
Having an African-American lead a once racist country would a different story—difficult to imagine, but not exactly impossible.
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Reddick, L. D. (1959). Crusader without violence: a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, Harper.
Rockwell, P. (2003). The forgotten teachings of Martin Luther King. California: NPC.