NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Martin Luther King Jr. is a man associated with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. He’s famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech and his strong belief in equal rights for all. The Black Lives Matter movement has recently brought attention to the persistence of racial injustice in present times. Even now, it’s important to pay attention to his ideas and messages. Taking a look back at some of King’s speeches has made it apparent that though we like to think we are constantly making progress in areas like racial equality, we still deal with the same issues he did 6 decades ago.
“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.”
King declared this phrase as a part of his first speech as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association. This sentiment connects to the BLM protests that persisted this summer petitioning for social change, just as the Montgomery Improvement Association did in King’s time. The intention behind this movement was to raise awareness for a problem that many people at the time didn’t even consider to be a problem. The intention behind the BLM movement is to raise awareness about a problem many people like to pretend has been solved.
In college, Martin came into contact with the teachings of Mohandes Gandhi. Gandhi was a strong believer in the philosophy of nonviolence and using words and kindness to achieve success.He didn’t think anything would be solved through violence and this influence was very evident in the way King conducted himself in the face of extreme aggravators. He used his public speaking skills to compel change rather than anger, a tactic people across America seem to have forgotten in the midst of tragedy and pain. Though he was always faced with backlash and ignorance, he never resorted to using physical force or slander.
At one point, King was even jailed during his campaign in the spring of 1963 when police released dogs and weaponized fire hoses against his supporters. This is reminiscent of the various examples of police brutality that were brought to public attention this past summer. The likes of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain became faces of the BLM movement as they were both killed by policemen. King famously said, “You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” The social injustice waged against all black Americans and publicized by King, Taylor, McClain and so many more has forced us to confront the ugly truth, that racism still prevails even in modern times.
Finally, the speech King might be most famous for, his “I Have a Dream” speech. In essence, it is a simple speech with the goal of sharing a simple message. There were many notable quotes and phrases from that speech. But the one most relevant with the rise of the BLM movement this past summer is, “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.” Despite all the accusations of violence and misconduct against the BLM movement at its core, the movement is about evoking social change and justice for a race that has been oppressed for centuries. And a lot of it started with Martin Luther King Jr. himself.
So as you celebrated MLK day on Monday the 18th, I hope you stopped and took some time to think about why we celebrate. Think about the man who a few decades ago spurred a social justice movement that is still changing lives and minds today.