On this day we celebrate and honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. More importantly, we relive the struggle to break the institutionalized discrimination against a large percentage of our fellow Americans. As Lincoln once suggested in a different situation, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Leading a non-violent revolution by example, King began a series of activities to engage the African-American minority population while also reaching out to key leaders of the white majority. As President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and laying the operational techniques of Ghandi over a Christian ideal, he led boycotts, protests, and marches. He was often beaten by mobs, jailed, and belittled, yet continued his campaign of non-violence and quiet, yet persistent, persuasion.
Eventually, some semblance of equality was gained with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In that same year, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Act didn’t miraculously stop discrimination, and local authorities and white majority populations continued to use intimidation to block full rights of citizenship for the black minority, including the ability to register for the vote. In 1965, King led a march from Selma, Alabama to the capital, Montgomery. The march is the topic of a new movie called, appropriately enough, Selma. This led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. See the trailer for Selma below:
But bigots don’t give up easily, and King continued to receive threats on his life. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A few weeks later, Robert F. Kennedy, another advocate for civil rights, was assassinated.
We’ve come a long way in the 50 years since then. An African-American has now been elected – and reelected – to the Presidency of the United States. And yet we get daily reminders that bigotry and racism, while perhaps more subtle, even insidious, have not gone away.
For those in the Washington, DC area, take some time to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial near the tidal basin. Here is a previous post about it.
For more on President Barack Obama’s connections with Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, check out the articles here (scroll down for more). Join him and others for a day of service to the community.
David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, an avid science traveler, and is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.