Monday, January 15, 2007

A man without borders

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, first observed on Jan. 20, 1986. Were he alive today (Janury 15), King would have celebrated his 78th birthday. Millions of Americans are remembering the civil rights leader and human rights advocate over this long holiday weekend.

King was a husband, a father, and a preacher. He was also the preeminent leader of a movement that continues to transform America and the world. One of the twentieth century's most influential men, he lived an extraordinary life.

To view a timeline of milestones in King's life, as well as a photo gallery, click here.

To truly understand King, this writer believes that one should read his writings. The King Estate has copyrighted his works. However, selected examples of his writings may be viewed online. Among them - the address King delivered in acceptance of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The King Papers Project is housed at Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

Journalists, historians, legislators and community leaders continue to examine whether King's appeal for peace with justice is as relevant today as it was when he was alive. Last year, an editorial in the Houston Chronicle attempted to place King's philosophy into present-day perspective in an editorial. Here is an excerpt from the piece:

Although he rose to national prominence fighting racial segregation in the South, many of the issues roiling the United States 38 years after his assassination would be very familiar to Martin Luther King Jr.

Before his death, the Baptist minister had denounced America's involvement in the Vietnam War, a daring stance that fueled the growing opposition to the carnage in Southeast Asia. He was bitterly criticized in the media and by government officials for venturing beyond the sphere of civil rights, as if that were the only area in which he was entitled to an opinion.

With the country now split by the bloody, open-ended struggle in Iraq and by the mistaken justification for going to war, it's not hard to predict where King would stand on the matter.

Americans debate the revelation that their government is conducting warrantless surveillance of Americans inside the United States. King had plenty of experience on that score. He was relentlessly wiretapped and trailed by the FBI. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was convinced that King was a communist sympathizer.

Just as he stood with refuse workers in Memphis in the last days before an assassin's bullet struck him down, King would championed the dispossessed evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, potent symbols of a race-based economic underclass that persists as a legacy of slavery and discrimination. The New Orleans nightmare that Katrina exposed indicates that the vision King enunciated in his "I Have a Dream" speech is not yet realized.

Like his role model for nonviolent protest, Mohandas K. Gandhi, King grew to be a world figure by embracing universal humanitarian concerns that surmounted ethnicity and religion. As he once said, "Evil is not driven out, but crowded out ... through the expulsive power of something good."

That's why the celebration of his life today cannot be limited to a single community or issue. African-Americans are justly proud that he rose from their ranks, but his life is significant to all Americans.

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Elizabeth said...

I wonder how MLK Jr. is addressed in public schools...I wonder if they only teach the major events of the civil rights struggle, or if they teach King's thoughts on war, colonialism and imperialism...

Ian Lidster said...

I remember when I was quite young riding in a taxi in Vienna. The driver, hearing my accent, which he assumed was American, turned in outrage and said in broken English, "Why did you people kill Martin Luther King?" I was at a loss as to how to respond. I found it interesting that an Austrian (not a people necessarily known for racial or ethnic tolerance) should have been so angered. I also thought, maybe his comment offers a little hope for a bigoted world. I think the jury's still out on that one, Deb.
Thanks for the commemorative thought.
Your friend,

Deb S. said...

Elizabeth: It probably depends, in part, on the curriculum of each school district and on individual teachers. Perhaps our blogging buddies who are social studies teachers can share their own thoughts and experiences.

My daughter, a high school student, learned about the civil rights struggle and about King's thoughts on war. She may have learned the other things, too, but I distinctly remember my daughter talking about the war issue.

Social studies teachers have to cover A LOT of material. Knowing that, I have exposed my children to certain aspects of U.S. or world history that they may not learn in the classroom.

The most important history lessons I learned in high school were through independent study. I think it's important to teach students how to go beyond what's covered in the classroom.

Elizabeth, thanks for giving us something very important to think about.

Ian: What an experience you had!
Sometimes I wish we could meet for tea or coffee from time to time. We could get together with a few dozen of our closest blogging friends and swap stories. :-)

Deb S. said...

Elizabeth and Ian: The site History Is Elementary has a great MLK post. Click here to read "MLK: It Should Be About How He Lived."

Malik said...

My thought for the day is this: we have to remember that what he accomplished is only a starting point. To show true respect for his legacy, we have to carry it forward.

Deb S. said...

Malik: "Carry it forward." Yes! Words to remember.

Heather Flanagan said...

I think you would be interested in this video about Bernie Meyer who has traveled the world portraying Gandhi:

rama said...

Many thanks dear Deb for this post. Dr King has been a powerful source of inspiration to me from my childhood. I will never forget his "I have a dream" speech, and especially its last words, "... home, home at last".