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Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964. (Photo Courtesy:  Wikipedia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

By K.P. Sander

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a 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…”

Departing from prepared text, King delivered his 17-minute – most famous – speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

According to Wikipedia, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  He was born Michael King on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.  His father changed his name to honor the German reformer Martin Luther.

King attended Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and then Boston University, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1955.  Dr. King became a Baptist minister and civil rights activist early in his career.  He helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, and served as its first president.

King spent his adult lifetime struggling against segregation, poverty and racial inequality – always striving to keep his Christian beliefs in the forefront – and helped organize peaceful, but profound, marches in Washington and Alabama.

King had the opportunity to visit Gandhi in India and study his stance on peace.  He mentioned his example in his address when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, hailing the “successful precedent” of using non-violence “in a magnificent way by Mohandas K. Gandhi to challenge the might of the British Empire… He struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage.”

As the victim of violence, it makes his assassination all the more poignant that his promotion of non-violence as the best way to challenge might did not carry him past 39 years.

In late March 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for weeks looking for better treatment and wages.  His flight out of Memphis was delayed because of a bomb threat, and in response he had some prophetic words to say as he addressed a rally at the Mason Temple and delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

“…Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”    

He was booked into the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, room 306.  On April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was standing on the motel’s second-floor balcony when he was shot.  The bullet entered his cheek, smashed his jaw, and went through his spinal cord before resting in his shoulder.  He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, and after emergency chest surgery he was pronounced dead just an hour after the shooting, at 7:05 p.m.

On Nov. 2, 1983, from the White House Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King.  It was first observed on Jan. 20, 1986, and on Jan. 17, 2000, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states.

King was known as one of the greatest orators in American history.