MLK Day was recently celebrated on January 16, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most influential civil rights leaders of the century.
Michael King, Jr., more commonly known as, Martin Luther King Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, to a deeply religious, middle-class family in Atlanta, Georgia, according to Brittanica.
King grew up during the Jim Crow era when laws limited and separated Black people’s access to water fountains, restaurants, bus service, and even education.
His earliest memory of racial discrimination occurred as a six-year-old when a White friend’s family wouldn’t allow them to play together because they attended segregated schools and because of King’s skin color.
Despite this and similar setbacks, King went to Morehouse College to study medicine and law before switching majors his senior year and entering the ministry as a Baptist preacher.
King then spent three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, after graduating college, where he was introduced to Mohandas Gandhi’s theory of nonviolence and resistance. As a result, of studying Gandhi’s philosophy, he became inspired and decided to use the same process in his own fight for equality and for the equality of others.
Within a year of becoming the pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, and shortly after Rosa Parks was arrested for violating the city’s segregation law, activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the transportation system and elected Dr. King as their leader. For several years after his first leadership role, he participated in many nonviolent protests and was arrested several times.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. King and several other civil rights leaders came together and held the March on Washington. The audience was filled with more than 200,000 interracial people, all there to hear him speak. According to NPR, the most famous and quotable lines of the speech today read:
“I have a dream that my four 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. I have a dream today.”
After all his involvement in victorious marches and events, Dr. King on April 4, 1968, was fatally shot in the back of the head by James Earl Ray. The assassination of Dr. King led to riots and protests in over 100 cities around the country for four days straight.
Dr. King is still considered the most influential civil rights leader today. Recent events seem to suggest, Dr. King’s emphasis on education and social activism is still relevant in today’s world. In reference to Black Lives Matter, or BLM, Ephren Taylor, president of the Black Student Union and a freshman at JCCC (18), says
“I really like the movement (BLM) and I think the movement has done a lot of great things, especially bringing attention to the issues, which is the first thing any movement has to do.… A lot of things that were impactful were their focus on police brutality.” Taylor later said.
“Everybody in the African American community already knows what’s going on, but you can’t [just] have the group being oppressed to fight for the movement. You need everyone to play their part.”
Taylor shares that many of MLK’s beliefs and policy-making ideas are not taught to students when they learn about him in school. Taylor said,
“When Martin Luther King was fighting for racial equality, he was seen as a radical. But once those views become mainstream they are not radical. A lot of his views would still be considered radical today, such as his economic policies.”
This year commemorates 55 years since MLK’s assassination. Although not all of his beliefs and policy ideas are shared in school, there are things everyone can do to keep his dream alive. Taylor shares that,
“It seems as though in history, college students have been the most active, politically, just like Dr. King. So you need to make your voice heard, or the world is going to get worse if you don’t do anything.”
“We often think that somebody else will do it, but a lot of times it’s got to be you to take the stand. It’s so important to vote for the right people and political advocates. Go vote and bug your friend to go vote.”
Eliana Klathis, features editor