Although millions of people in the United States were born on Jan. 15th, only one man has the honor of having the day be dedicated to his life and accomplishments. This man made equality his mantra, made freedom burn in the hearts and minds of all those who suffered from racial oppression and made change his life’s work. This man has earned commendation and respect not only from African Americans, but from people of all colors and races. Lionized in history as a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, he was an advocate for non-violent protest and had a dream to see a world where skin color is not the foremost authority. This man is none other than the great Martin Luther King Jr.
A study conducted by The World Counts indicated that over 353,000 babies are born every day, but less than 1 percent of those children will be able to change the world for the better. Alongside this discovery, another study was conducted by INC that stated that 92% of people do not accomplish their goals. Global change is a very difficult feat to accomplish, which is why it is always so fascinating to see someone break all societal barriers in order to make their mark on history. Even in the midst of struggle and overwhelming obstacles, this 1 percent is able to persist and challenge the status quo in order to achieve their goals, and through their pursuit for a better world they inspire others to better themselves. Dr. King was just that kind of man, and his impact is all the more impressive because the drawback he had to overcome was the most daunting and menacing of all. He was an African American living in a world where the supremacy of the white man was commonplace.
Unfortunately, it was not long after Dr. King’s birth in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929 that he was exposed to the racial segregation that plagued the southern United States. During one of the King’s family outings to the shoe store, the family was restrained, ushered to the back door of the establishment and told that blacks were not allowed in the store. They were not even permitted to walk through the front door, as if the color of their skin would infect the threshold of the store. From that point on, Dr. King would continue to reveal the harsh truth of the world, the ineluctable reality, that blacks were in a perpetual state of inferiority to whites. Blacks could not eat in the same restaurants, drink from the same water fountains or even use the same bathrooms as whites. They suffered countless offenses of racial injustice and were not able to even utter a word in rebuttal or self-defense. It was these incidents that led Dr. King to begin his passionate crusade for equality.
This great road to equality began with Dr. King’s strong affiliation with the church, as his father was the pastor of one of the most well-known congregations in Atlanta during that period in history. Due to the strong influence of both his father and the church, Dr. King graduated with a degree in sociology from Morehouse College, and later received his doctorate in seminary from Boston University in 1955, when he was only 25-years-old. After obtaining his Ph.D, Dr. King became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama, where he began to build his platform as an activist for equality.
As he quickly ascended to greater heights, Dr. King was intercepted by a baleful roadblock called the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In March of 1955, a young woman named Claudette Colvin, only 15-years-old, was arrested and taken to jail for not giving up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus. She was charged for being in clear violation of a segregation law upheld by the state of Montgomery and also charged for insubordination. Even with the efforts of the NAACP and activists such as Dr. King, they were unable to help her avoid incarceration.
This was a major blow to not only Civil Rights activists but the African American community as a whole. Not long after, Dr. King and his fellow activists received another chance to show what the strength of an oppressed people looks like. Only nine months later on Dec. 1, 1955, a 42-year-old woman named Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus and sat in the first row of the colored section. When the bus started to reach its seating capacity and several individuals, both whites and blacks, had to stand in the center aisle of the bus, Parks was ordered to give up her seat to a white man. However, this strong willed woman did not allow her rights to be absolved so easily. Parks refused to give up her seat causing a serious altercation, ultimately resulting in her arrest.
Dr. King did not allow Montgomery’s retrograde policies to deter him from challenging the prejudiced society. Dr. King met with executives of the NAACP, and organized a statewide bus boycott that he himself led. He then made his first speech as the President of the Montgomery Improvement Association on Dec. 5. In this powerful oration Dr. King declared with a heavy heart, “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression”. He also urged the African American community to unify and mount the colossal structure of systemic oppression that withheld their liberty for so many generations.
Dr. King said to them, “We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”
This speech fanned the flame of emancipation in the hearts of all African Americans and inspired colored men and women to fight for their freedom. Furthermore, the speech initiated one of the longest boycotts in American history that lasted over 382 days. It began the grand expedition for Civil Rights that resulted in the creation of the “separate is never equal” mantra that aided in the decision of Brown v. Board of Education and lifted the law segregating public transportation. After this decisive victory, Dr. King went on to become a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which was inspired by the non-violent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. This Conference served as a launchpad for several other significant movements such as the “sit-in” movement created by African American students in North Carolina.
From there, Dr. King returned to Atlanta and became a co-pastor at his father’s church in 1960 but remained a prominent Civil Rights activist. Three years later after multiple protests and marches, Dr. King began the Birmingham Campaign that furthered his influence and increased his supporters. This led to the famous March on Washington on Aug. 28 1963. Over 200,000 people gathered in the nation’s capital at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. This was Dr. King’s most famous speech, thus blowing even more wind in the already enormous sail of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s speech earned an exorbitant amount of praise and led to him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Jan. 15 is a day which celebrates the life and legacy of a man that had a dream. A man that became the 1 percent that changed the world. A man that waged war against oppression and walked away in victory. A man that said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” A man that loved his children so much that he wanted them to have the greatest gift this broken world has to offer, freedom. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” A man who did not see anything wrong with a world filled with more than one color, but rather believed that a world that expelled the monochromatic idealism held by bigots and supremacists would only make the world more beautiful. He longed for a world where both blacks and whites could one day join hands and live harmoniously and was able to find a way to peacefully bring about the fulfillment of that desire.
Because of his sacrifices and leadership, freedom rings “from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.” Freedom rings “from the mighty mountains of New York.” Freedom rings “from the curvaceous slopes of California.” Freedom rings “from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.” And freedom surely rings “from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” Because of the part Dr. King played in history African Americans all over the United States can finally say, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”