“The time is always right to do what is right.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
What is a hero? The dictionary defines a hero as "one who shows great courage. The central figure in an event, period, or movement." During times of turmoil, hardship, and injustice, human beings find ourselves wanting to make change happen quickly and without serious repercussions. Unfortunately, in fights of that nature, there are consequences and sacrifice required to move a cause forward.
As a society when we think of heroes now, we often think of spandex, super strength and a lot of moody angst. We may even think of the great athletes of our day or those we grew up watching as children. While heroes can be of many varieties even folks who are achieving their dreams, it is important to look upon those who accomplished great strides toward an ideal even under extreme discomfort. If it were easy, then anyone would do it, right? The reality is that being a hero is challenging at best and often terrifying.
Dr. King was a man willing to undertake the burden of being a hero. He was ready and able to be brave in the face of terror and keep moving forward.
We here at Revolt Newz would like to offer a brief snapshot of some key moments of Dr. King's heroism and in many ways a thank you letter to Dr. King for being brave enough to sacrifice his life for us all. However, it does not encapsulate all of the works that he completed. We encourage everyone to take the initiative to continue researching this man's great accomplishment's, not only today but throughout the year.
King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to Alberta and Martin Luther King (Michael) and had two siblings, Alfred and Christine. Both his father and grandfather were ministers of the church, and his mother was a school teacher who got Dr. King started in his studies at an early age. In fact, Dr. King became such a good student that he skipped both the 9th and 12th grade before attending Morehouse College at age fifteen for a degree in Sociology.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue for 381 days, placing a severe economic strain on the public transit system and downtown business owners.
After the success of the boycott in Montgomery, Dr. King grew prominent on a national level as he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) alongside fellow civil rights activists. The group was committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through nonviolent protest with a motto of “Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed.”
On April 16, 1963, while imprisoned, Dr. King compiled a seven thousand word letter in response to an open letter in a local Birmingham newspaper that criticized a peaceful protest held by King and over fifty other activists in Birmingham on April 12th by labeling them as outside agitators. King’s passionate response was written entirely without access to research materials and focused on the nation’s religious leaders and others for doing nothing but observe while he and the other protestors risked everything while peacefully pushing for change. Fifty years later, this essential cultural document has been published over fifty times and in forty different languages.
Later in the year on August 28th, King alongside other leaders organized the March on Washington which was a peaceful gathering to bring attention to social injustices faced by African Americans. The rally was attended by close to three hundred thousand people and is considered a landmark moment that helped with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Perhaps most famously, the March on Washington was concluded by Dr. King with his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. King would continue to lead the movement for equality for several more years until he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his heroism. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was staying due to his support of the sanitation workers, strike going on in the area. The assassination was carried out by James Earl Ray who was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison and would later take back his confession. The death resulted in riots across the nation and served a sobering reminder of the vile hatred of many in the country.
After many years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress and Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to create a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr’s work and memory. The holiday was first observed in 1986 and serves as a good time for reflection on the progress we've made and of the miles we still have to go for authentic and complete equality.
May we all find the courage in the coming years to finally put injustice and inequality to rest permanently.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Written by Calvin Heikkila
Image by Daniel Cicchelli