How Martin Luther King Jr Saved America
Monday is a federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. Now, what does someone have to do to earn a nationally recognized government holiday on our limited calendar of just 365 days? Martin Luther King is arguably the most important figure in American history with regards to ending segregation and championing civil rights. “Over an 11-year period (1957 and 1968), MLK traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action” (nobelpeaceprize.org). He gave one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history at the nation’s capital to 250,000 people, and even when he was notified about his selection for the Nobel Peace Prize, he donated the prize money of $54,123 to further the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King spearheaded the ending of racial segregation in America, but beyond that, he gave birth to the idea of a coalition of conscience.
He showed that the journey, or process, is just as important as the end result. Even in the face of discrimination, he maintained composure and grace doing everything to abolish social inequality, all in the name of peace. While locked in a jail cell for non-violent civil disobedience, he wrote a sermon to his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama and taught us the importance of loving your enemies. Rooted in his sermon are three principles that saved America.
1. “First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.”
This goes against the grain of normal human behavior where if someone inflicts evil upon you, you reciprocate by delivering consequences. But don’t be mistaken, Martin Luther King explains that, forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. His secret for creating the atmosphere of invoking social change — using forgiveness as a catalyst to create a fresh start.
2. Look for the best in people.
We must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves.
It’s a classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario. Every human has an internal battle between what they believe is right and wrong. Realizing that others are fighting this battle, no matter how much they may be losing, will make us less prone to hating our enemies (refer back to #1). Martin Luther King tells us that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us and with this realization, you see your enemy in a new light. We [then] recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…
3. “Hate cannot drive out hate.”
Everyone has a reservoir of goodwill that is blocked by hate, and the world needs to focus on the goal of bringing out the good in people rather than looking for retribution. The point here is to not face your enemies with the goal defeating or humiliating them, but rather to approach them with friendship and understanding. Why would you add a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars?
That was the beauty of Martin Luther King. He preached “love your enemy,” because hate has been known to have a crippling effect, where compassion and love are of a redemptive nature. He tackled the biggest injustice in the country with a completely counterintuitive method of advocacy. That yes, you are a victim, but in a sense the enemy is the real victim, whether to ignorance, pride, or insecurity. He added a deeper meaning to peace & non-violent protest– a compassionate and wholly empathetic perspective. Even with the ending of his life, though tragically short, he still won. His life and death, both the journey and the end, shed light on some of the darkest evils in the country and within ourselves. He showed us an unconventional way to civically engage — that true peace comes from not only within, but from the desire to instill peace within your enemy. That while abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.
“Martin Luther King Jr. – Biographical”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 17 Jan 2014. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html>