THE LEGACY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.


 

 

LEGACY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

By Uriah J. Fields

What did Martin Luther King, Jr. bequeath to humanity that continues, even into the third millennium, to cause people to revere him and embrace his legacy? This is the question that this writer, who considers himself to have been King's first civil rights secretary, proposes to answer in this discourse. But before answering that question I want to present some relevant biographical data about King.

King was born on January 15, 1929 to Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King, Sr. in the City of Atlalnta, where he attended public school and earned his bachelor's degree at Morehouse College. He received a bachelor of divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and a Ph.D, degree from Boston University. On Sepember 5, 1954 he became the resident pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

On Monday, December 5, 1955, four days after the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, on charges that she had violated the segergation laws of Alabama by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white male bus passenger, King and seventeen other Montgomery leaders organized the Montgomery Improvemnt Association to be the organization that leaders would use to plan and conduct activities that would promote and manage the Montgomery But Boycott that had begun that very day about eight hours earlier before the MIA was formed. During the organizing meeting of the MIA, King was elected to be its president. As leader of that organization he went on to provide leadership for the 382-day long successful bus boycott that ended after the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery's and Alabama's bus segregation laws were unconstitutional.

Subsequently, King was the principal founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. For more than a decade SCLC conducted sit-ins, freedom rides, voter registration campaigns, staged marches, including the August 1963 March on Washington. Nearly one-third of a million people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear King deliver a speech that has beome as endearing to many Americans as President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." At a later time, King protested America's involvement in the Vietnam War. He was jailed many times for having participated in civil-disobedience demonstrations. King was in Memphis participating in a Sanitation Workers' protest when he was assissinated on April 4, 1968 allegedly by James Earl Ray. Ray was given a life sentence for the crime, but until his death some twenty years later, he never admited that he killed King. There are many other people, including King's wife Coretta Scott King, who believe that Ray did not kill King, but that a conspiracy was responsible for his death. Some of those who believe that it was a conspiracy that killed King include Ray in the conspiracy, but others contend that he was not involved in King's assassination.

King was selected as Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1956, awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and the United States Congress and the President approved the National Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. Although King had many other achievements, it is now clear that he contributed magnanimously, noteworthily and praiseworthily to the advancement of African Americans and in making America a better place for all Americans. His fame has spread throughout the world. 

What then is the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr." According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, a legacy is defined as "something received from an ancestor, a predecessor or from the past." As a working definition for this discourse, a legacy is defined as "something from the past that has liberatiing and redemptive efficacy for its beneficiaries and impacts a significant population such as a nation."

A legacy can be negative or positive. Or, it can be both negative and positive, as is true of King's legacy. Sometimes it is the negative aspects rather than the positive aspects of a legacy that account for its permanency. Just because a legacy has a negative component that does not mean that it should be ignored or considered to be of less value. Indeed, the positive component, as is true of King's legacy, may be of such that it, while not rendering the negative aspect as inconsequential, is so noble and of such redemptive value that its supremacy remains impeachable. Let us now consider the negative aspects of King's legacy. They are:

1. Nonviolence. King taught and required that his followers be nonviolent. One of the most noble commitments a person can make is to be responsible, to take the "responsible vow." This should be done by a person at an early age. The responsible person answers the question, "What is the responsible thing to do in this specific situation?" The matter of self-preservation is taken seriously by the responsible person and he will defend himself against his destruction whenever it is in his power to do so. Think for a moment about people you know who have suffered needlessly, faced death or seen these things happen to people they care about because they are someone else who could have made a differenc refused to be violent when it was clear that violence was the only remedy or viable option. There was not anything that happened during the Montgomery Bus Boycott or since that has caused me to change my mind about the need for me to reject the nonviolence approach that King advocated and asked bus protesters to embrace. Reality and love more than suggest that neither violence or nonviolence should be accepted as the single approach to be applied in living a creative and happy life. Standing in a responsible posture, a person will employ violence or nonviolence in an endeavor to create the greatest good possible.

2. Passive Resistance. Although passive resistance appears to be closely related to non-violence, it has its own specificity. Passive resistance runs counter to life, which is dynamic. That dynamism is expressed in a budding flower, heard when birds sing, and in the cry of a newborn baby. Passive resistance is a defensive tactic. And while there are times and circumstances when it is appropriate to be passive, even times when it is the prudent thing to do, there are many more times and circumstances which demand that we be assertive and even aggressive. This can be especially true when justice is being pursued. Translated, this means being on the offensive rather than the defensive, acting rather than reacting, and being a "doer' rather than a person or object "done to." Passive resistance suppresses or blocks creativity and spontaneity, makes it difficult for a person to be peculiarly himself or capable of expressing his uniqueness. In order for a person to be a in charge of himself, he has to reject passive resistance as a preferred behavioral pattern. Instead, he has to be assertive and express himself freely and forthrightly with the realization that he is a child of the Universe and has a right to be here on Planet Earth as much as any other creature or thing. I cannot recall many times when passive resistance helped us during the Montgomery Bus Boycott to accomplish our objective. However, I can think of many times, when its opposite, "dynamic insistence" made a positive difference.

3. Dream Possessed. According to the news media and people who choose to ignore or minimize the significance of the meaning of the message King delivered on August 23, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, his speech is called the "I Have a Dream" speech. While it is true that toward the end of his speech he began at least five statements with "I have a dream," that was not the essential message of his speech. In that speech King informed and challenged white Americans to "Judge African Americans by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin." He said that the promissory note guaranteeing basic freedom for all Americans, including black people, had come back marked "insufficient funds," and he asserted that "black people refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt." King called upon white Americans, ultimately the United States Government, to pay the long ovedue payment that is due black Americans which for those of us who knew him best also knew that he meant the payment of reparations to black people for 244 years of ensalvement of their ancestors. He challenged Americans to live out the American Creed set forth in the Declaration of Independence that says:

"We hold these  truths  to be  self-evident, that all
men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator  with  certain  unalienable  rights, that  among
these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Those who read King's speech with an open mind will readily understand that his speech was not a "dream speech," and should not be referred to as such. On that hot summer day, King called for a radical change that would eradicate racism, poverty and injustic in the American society. While it is also true that in his speech he said that his "I have a Dream " is rooted in the American Dream," neither the "I have a Dream" or the "American Dream" is a worthy goal for black folk to pursue. Freedom, justice and  equality are not just American. They are desired and pursued by all human beings, not as a dream, but as a reality.

King was familiar with these words spoken by the Prophet Joel who said, "Your old men shall dream dreams, but your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28). King was a young man. Need I say more. And I have also heard him recite these words that are found in one of the wisdom books of the Bible that says, "Where there is no vision the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18). And why this negative aspect of King's legacy is not fully of his making but of those who interpret and present his message as the "I Have a Dream" mischaracterization of his essential mesasge, it still must be considered a part of his legacy.

Now let us turn to the positive aspects of King's legacy. It beaers repeating here: the positive components of one's legacy should not be rejected just because it co-exists with the negative components of his legacy.

1. Self-Respect. King believed that if a person had self-respect that he would also respect other people. He considered self-respect to be a moral attribute and an imperative for moral man.

Self respect, propelled by love, enables a person to be his best. He admonished people to be the best. He would say, "sweep streets like Michelangelo painted and like Beethoven wrote music." To make this point he would sometimes quote this poem by Douglas Mallock:

If you can't be a pne on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley--but be the
best little scrub by the side of the hill,
b
e a bush if you can"t be a tree.
If you can't be a highway just be a trail
If you can't be the sun be a star;
It isn't by size that you win or fail...
Be the best of whatever you are.

2. Confront Exploiters. King demonstrated that it is important to confront expoloiters, and he felt that we should do it with the conviction that right will win. To him, confrontation meant that the challenge would carry out his own will in opposition to the will of the person or entity being challenged. Engaging in civil disobedience, protest marches, sit-ins and non-cooperation with evil were some of  the ways King confronted exploiters. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is a classsic example of non-cooperation with the "powers that be." The modus operandi employed in the bus boycott involved various methods and techniques that fit into the confrontative mystique.

3. Massive Desegregation. King's leadership contributed immensely in bringing about more integration in thirteen years than had been secured in all the years America had existed as a sovereign nation. Many of the inequities that Americans of African desent experienced before King's assault on the American system of segregation and racial discrimination have been eliminated or greatly reduced: in public transportation, employment and education. Americans of Africn descent now have access to public facilities such as restaurants and hotels and open housing. They have the right to vote. These things can be attributed to King's leadership. Most significantly, his leadership helped to changed the way laws would be supportive of black people. Simply put, they would make it possible for a black person to go to court and win when he had been the victim of racial discrimination. This is not to say that all the inequities and exclusions black people faced before King's assault on segregation have disappeared. And since his death, some achievements made during his life have been lost or eroded. Many schools have become resegregated, affirmative action has been all but eliminated and black men, especially young black men, are currently being imprisoned on a scale not heretofore heard of, accounting for America holding the dubious distinction of being the world's number one jailer. But thanks to King's leadership, blacks are enjoying more of the opportunities and privileges of citizenship than ever before.

4. Practice Community. King taught that we can have "community or chaos, but not both." And he challenged humankind to practice community. Someimes he called this way of being the "practice of community" and at other times he called it the "Beloved Community." Emphasizing community he said, "Community is a relationship where people live together, respect each other and share themselves and their resoursces with each other." To illustrate the importnce of community he would say "We will live together or we will die separately." He observed that in community "No link is any weaker than its strongest link." His answer to the question, How do we know that we are practicing commuity? is, We know that we are practicing community when what we do contributes to creating and promoting oneness. For King, practicing community is a principle just the same as justice or love.

5. Spiritual Ultimacy. King believed that humans are spiritual beings and that spiritual power is the strongest power in the universe. (That power being love. "God is love.")He saw himself as a spiritual person and a Christian minister and he never ceased to maintain a faith-centeredness and a church-connectedness. Despite the pressure some people put on him and the attempts they made to get him to denounce or refuse to acknowledge his religious idenitty, he never forsook his role as a minister. He was challenged to be a civil rights leader, not a miniser. King said that he did not have any conflict in being both a civil rights leader and a minister. For him they boh were compatible. As a mater of fact, he drew heavily upon his minister self to enhance his civil rights leader self. And he was convinced not only that spiritual power is the strongest power in the universe, but that it was the only power that could effectively confront political power that is characteristically coercive and controlling, anf as such it accounts for most of the injustices and  human misery that afflicts society. On several occasions I heard him say that he was sent by God and that he was engaged in God's work. He never doubted that God would see him through his difficulties regardless of how insurmountable they may appear to be. I never heard King say anything to suggest or indicate that he believed that a non-Christian religious person was less than a Christian person. He would say "We are all God's children, inluding the non-professing religious person." There is much to indicate that every human being who has a soul is religious.

6. White Women Awakening. It was only after King led black people in effectively challenging the white man to remove segregation barriers black people had faced did white women become sufficiently motivated to engage in a struggle to secure equality for themselves. Apparently, they became convinced that if black people, men and women, could successfully challenge the white supremacy system that elevated white men over other people (their fathers, husbands and brothers), they could do likewise. To say that white women have kept a keen eye on black men, but also on black women, is no exaggeration. It was only after black men were granted the right to vote following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United State Constituion that was ratified on March 30, 1870, did white women engage in struggle to secure their right to vote which was granted fifty years after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on August 26, 1920. In the South, the Ku Klux Klan was organized to violently prevent black men from voting after the Fifteenth Amendment went into effect. Their tactics included lynching. Many states and federal governmental officials were either members of the Ku Klu Klan or felt powerless to resist Klansmen. The government abdicated its responsibility by failing to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, something that should have been done even if it meant using the same methods to deal with the Ku Klux Klan that was used to deal with the South when Southern States attempted to secede from the union.

During the last thirty years, white women, using many of the tactics black people used in the fifties and sixties have been highly successful in gaining access to opporunities that had been available only to white men. They have made phenomenal progress in achieving equality with white men and in narrowing the gap between themselves and their counerpart, meaning white men, more than it has been narrowed between black people and white people. Today, white women are doing nearly everything white men are doing, including fighting wars. This is a far cry from several generations earlier when their grandfathers and great-grandfathers put their grandmothers and great-grandmothers on pedestals and hailed them collectivly as the "weaker sex." That sounds like a contradiction.

7. Empowerment of Non-Black Minorities. Before King led blacks in protestng for their civil rights many non-black minorities seemed to have been satisfied in just being treated by white people a little better than black people were treated by them. I have heard some black people and some non-black minorities sum up the level of justice non-black minorities received using those very same words. Before King led the civil rights movement Latinos voted in small numbers than could not be justified by the size of their population. They appeared to have been contented to let white people represent them, particularly in goverment, but also in non-governmental affairs. This was generally true with all non-black minorities, not just Latinos, in America, except for the Jews (who are whites but have an adversarial relationship with other whites). It was as if non-black minorities believed that they were not entitled to the same rights, privileges, opportuities and responsibilities as white people. It was obvious that they did not enjoy the same citizenship rights as white people. Since King's civil rights crusade, Latinos in particular, have made considerable progress. They now have real political power resulting in part from a significant increase in the number of registered voters they have and in the number of people they have elected to political offices. Indeed, they have become a political power to be reckoned with since King led the fight to seuree voting rights for black people. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution gave them that right many years ago, but it was only after King raised their consciousness through his crusade to secure equal justice, under the law, for all did they register to vote in significant numbers. And, significantly, Latinos have employed some of the same methods and strategies as King to gain greater access to the ballot box and other boxes that previously they did not have access to. However, they did not have to fight to open some of the doors to some boxes because King had fought to open them, not just to blacks but to Latinos. Clearly, Latinos are no longer just settling for what white leaders decide that is best for them, but are determining for themselves what actions they need to take in order to advance their own agenda in a society where white supremacy continues to reign as is evident in the amount of control white people have over non-white citizens and the vast percentage of the wealth they possess.   

Among the other non-black minorities positively impacted by King's past civil rights leadership are the people of Asian descent, including Japanese; among them are the  offsprings of Japanese who were placed in containment centers, American-style concentration camps also called interment camps, during World War II, Chinese, Filipinos Koreans, Vietnamese, and Indians who are descendants of natives of India. Also included are other peoples of color who call America home, and black Americans from Africa whose ancestors did not cross the Atlantic on a slave ship during the Middle Passage but came by airplane, with few exceptions, since slavery was abolished in America. More significantly, however, than their mode of transportation is the fact that they came to America, of their own free-will, as free people, or, on their own accord. There are also Puerto Ricans and Cubans and it goes without saying, thanks to President John F. Kennedy's Cuban Policy, that Cubans are having a great impact on Florida. Both of these groups have applied King's direct action engagement strategy, particularly in New York City and Miami, respectively, to open doors that were previously closed to them. Haitians have also applied King's strategy on sea and land in demanding that they be treated like other immigrants, especially like white immigrants, fleeing their homelands in Europe to come to America. They, like some other Floridians, protested the treatment they received in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election and complained that they were not given the kind of assistance at the polls that other non-English speaking groups received. And they joined with many others in asking that all the votes be counted, something the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against, notwithstanding, that the Flordia Supreme Court had ruled that the votes should be counted. Many people believe, including those unfairly treated Haitians, that had the Florida Supreme Court ruling not been usurped by the U. S. Sureme Court and that the votes having been counted fairly Vice-President Albert Gore, not then Governer W. Bush would have become the forty-second President of the United States.

Native Americans, also called Indians, but never mind that nobody ever asked them their name, the most mistreated people in America have on occasions applied King's approach of direct action with a touch of Sitting Bull acumen in seeking justice. King sometimes  spoke of the mistreatment that Indians received at the hand of the white man and challenged white America to share the resources of this land in a more equitable way with the so-called Indians.

Homosexuals, gays and lesbians, have come out of the closet since the civil rights years. It is apparent that they have employed some of the same tactics as King in their endeavor to be accepted. They have been invovled in protest marches, most nobably amontg them has been their gay and lesbians parades designed to declare their personhood visibility. Of course, in homophobia America just for gays and lesbians to show up or to admit their sexual orientation is a protest, just as it was for blacks before King's crusade. Just blacks' presence in certain arenas before King was intolerable to many white people. With regard to blacks, that has not entirely disappeared. Using King's approach to effect change homoexuals have gained what can be considered a tolerance, not acceptance, status in America. But they are continuing to work to achieve acceptance, as they employ King's methodology to accomplsh their objectives. 

Because homosexuals were politically active and the issue of their place in the military was being debated at the time William Jeferson Clinton first ran for President, he sensing their clout, made a pledge to homosexuals that, if elected, he would give homosexual soldiers an acceptance status in the military. Early in his administration,  most Republicans and some Democrats in the Congress advocated a homosexual-free military. President Clinton, after debating the matter, issued his four word military homosexual policy: "Don't ask, don't tell." Why the President deserved some credit for the brevity of his policy on homosexuals in the military, something that should be applied to many other governmental polices and, if such was the case, it would be more difficult to include in them a lot of the gobbledygook or non-sense that constitutes much of their content, this policy did not give recognition to the true identity or identities of homosexuals, or support them in their right to be themselves. Any governmental policy should encourage authenticity and truth. In that policy the words "Don't tell" should have been replaced with the words "Tell the truth." After the President issued that policy, Republicans who had charged him with not having a foreign policy could no longer say that he didn't have a policy on homosexuals in the military. During the Korean War, I was a soldier and there were homosexuals in every unit that I was assigned to. Other soldiers, except for the most naive among them, knew that homosexuals were present and accounted for at most roll calls. Let us not forget that during war homosexuals, like heterosexuals, paid the ultimate price. Today some of them have the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia as their resting place. I must add that a policy for homosexuals and heterosexuals in the military that would have held the rank of general when compared with Clinton's policy that held, in my book, the rank of a private first-class or may be a private second-class, is "My business is my business and your business in your business."

Disabled people have also benefited from King's practices. They have engaged in direct action in seeking justice. Some AIDS victims and other disabled people have "acted up." That is what some white people accused King of doing. They included govenmental officials and ministers. How well do I recall, Billy Graham was among them. These status quo advocates wanted King to "act down." Of course, they preferred that he not act at all, particularly if it meant seeking to change the status quo. King's letter from a Birmingham jail was his response to clergymen's criticism of his leaderhsip. Prior to going to jail in Birmingham, some white clergymen, after castigating and lampooning him, urged him to withdraw from demonstations. In his letter from the Birmingham jail he said, "We cannot be satisfied...we can never be satisfied...we cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote." Then in his most scathing accusations of a reprimanding nature and confession he said:  

I must make two honest confessions to you my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action," who parternalistically believe that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom.

I predict that the next two groups that will employ King's philosophy and practices will be the homeless and prisoners. Of course, some homeless people have been sent to prison for no other reason than they were homeless. While they have shown their colors, so to speak, with most of them being black or brown and of course, poor, they have not applied the tactics King used to advance their civil rights agenda. What do you think would happen if a large number, say fifty percent, of the homeless decided to show up for prison? Do you think the system would make one clean sweep of the homeless as some cities have insisted on doing to rid their cities of homeless people and forcing them to go to another city or remanding them to a restricted part of their cities? What would happen if the prisoners decided that they would  no longer accept their prisoner status which, among other things, would mean that they would refuse to render free labor that enriches people who have no legitimate claim on being compensated by prisoners.

Today there are approximately two and a half million people in American prisons and jails and another six million on probation or kept under the "criminal--eyed" surveillance of the American Justice System which in reality, for many, is as much an injustice system as it is a justice system. Nearly half of the prisoners are black, many of them young black men, even though blacks constitute only eleven percent of the United States population. Even ex-prisoners, so called felons, are often denied rights, including, the right to vote, to own a gun, and to work on a decent job after completing their sentences. States in the South and those elsewhere that have large black populations are the states that have the most punitive "after serving prison time" laws. It would seem that in any sane and humane society a helping hand would be extended to those who have fallen and that they would  be encouraged to become productive citizens. But that is not the case in America. It is time for people from every walk of life to realize that a person is more than his past or the acts that he has committed. He is his present, his problems, his growth and the possibilities, including the possibility that he can soar to higher heights. The main reason many people are sent to and kept in prisons is because it is economically profitable. Judges, prosecuting attorneys, securtiy guards and many other people owe their financial well-being to the justice system, not least being to prisoners. If it were not for prisoners many judges would not be judging. What do you think they would be doing?  After all, a number of them were political appointees. Of course, unemployment is not among the possibilities, or is it? Unfortunately, prisoners do not realize how much power they possess. When they come to that realization they will use the tactics King employed to gain justice. I believe that the time is swiftly approaching when they will fight for their own freedom. The greatest power any person has is soul-power. This is what King believed. Soul-power can be used to enable a person to transcend his predicament. Saint Ambrose observed that "A wise man though he be a slave, is at liberty."  To paraphase one can say, "A spiritual aware person, though in prison, is free." All Americans who believe in justice for all" or justice for themselves have a responsibility to join in a crusade aimed at radically reforming the prison system just as all right thinking Americans had a responsibility during King's crusade days to join in opposing segregation  and racial discrimination. Sometimes we hear people say, "America is the greatest nation in the world." We never ask "for whom?" Well to repeat, for a certainty, "America is the world's largest jailer" and it may be well for those who proudly declare that "America is the greatest nation in the world," to say with a sense of turpitude, "America is the world's largest jailer."

Before making a closing statement, I want to state that even though I have talked about King in such a way that the reader might get the impresison that King single-handedly led the civiil rights movement that was not the case, nor do I want to infer that misunderstanding. King would be  the first person to give a lot of people credit for the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other civil right feats and advances that followed. He realized, as I do, that there were other leaders and people who made it possible for him to provide the leadership that would advance the civil rights agenda and effect social change. Indeed, if he had not known that before the bus boycott he certainly learned that during the boycott which he led effectively. Even some leaders and groups that opposed King's leadership were important in that regard. They too conributed to opening more doors of opportunity for black people. Their roles were vital in assisting King, even when they appeared to be in opposition to him. They can be accredited, to a great degree, with keeping King on the right tracks.

These groups and personalities included, but were not limited to, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Malcolm X and the Black Power Warrior Stokely Carmichael. A truth that is not always apparent is that King's black opponents helped to advance the civil rights movement and make it a success. The Malcolm X "by any means necessary" and Carmichael's "Black Power'" approaches actually caused white controllers, including the government, to make concessions and overtures to King that would not have happened had it not been for their enggements. There is no doubt in my mind that in the long run their actions brought some benefits including the right to vote to black people in the South sooner than they would have become available to them had they not, in certain ways, opposed King or his tactics.  In fact, their actions helped to make for fewer black casualties. Then, there were other groups, the most notable among them were the Congress of Racial Equality and the NAACP and their leaders, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins, respectively. It remains, however, that King was not only the most prominent leader of the civil rights movement, but he contributed more to its success than anyone else and, perhaps, it was because he had the greatest capacity to do more. Jesus spoke to this when he said "For unto whosoever much is given of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). All people are not endowed with the same gifts or given the same amount of talents quality-wise or quantity-wise.

And now the end is near. The evening shadows appear. It is the day before King's death. He had come to Memphis to paticipate in a second march that was aimed at securing justice for garbage workers. He had not been at the first march that occurred a week earlier when there was violence. He applauded what the protesers were doing to secure justice but he wanted non-violence to prevail. The local leaders, including Rev. James Lawson, a pastor of a local church, who for several years had been King's chief non-violent trainer asked him to come to Memphis and participate in the march and assist them in obtaining justice.

On that very night, King delivered his last public message at the Church of God in Christ's Mason Temple. He told his audience about a bomb threat on his plane that morning and rumors that some people in Memphis were threatenng him, too. In his final public message, speaking prophetically and seemingly with clairvoyance and a premonition he said:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really dosen't matter with me now, because I've been to the mounaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. 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. And 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.

The legacy of King is a gift for humanity and is of great value. It has been paid for sacrifically. In his struggle for justice he gave his life or, more correctly, it was taken away from him because of what he stood for. His legacy is efficacious and redemptive. Better than anyone except Jesus, he motivate and encouraged people in a way that they had not experienced in modern times if, indeed before, to take seriously the possibility and probability that they can create brotherhood, the Beloved Community, and a societal transforation. Because of King many more people than before have become invoved in transforming society. They have and continue to accept the challenge he made when he urged them to impove upon what their parents and forefathers had done and not just settle for or resign to limiting themseves to their forefathers' achiveements. The abuse of black people was one of the wrongs their parents and forefathers had commited that he inspired them to address, rather than ignore or refuse to respond to positively and humanely. He challenged them to never agree that their foreparents were right in supporting slavery and practicing racial discrimination. In response to King's demonstration of caring about those who are unjustly treated, many young people broke with their parents, with tradition and rejected white supremacy. They responded to King's admonition which is the same call that the Prophet Amos made when he said, "But let justice run down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream." (Amos 5:24)). Because of King, people began to feel and demonstrate that individually or collectively they could make a positive difference.

My prayer and charge, and it is a mandate as well, to readers of this discourse and to those they share this message with is resolved to consciously embrace the "Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.," with the awareness that each individual has to work out his own personal salvation for himself in fear and trembling, but that we can help one another to find meaning, and in doing this we become better and we help to create a better world. Both we and the world are still in the making. These are things King realized and endeavored to assist others in knowing, and knowing to commit to do good and work for the creation of a just society.

King is one of the few extraordinarily gifted and distinguished Masters of all human existence who have kept alive the "Paradise Regained" hope that is rooted in the divine promise that we can live in a just society. This is our inheritance. From Eternity King speaks to our salient spirits saying, "Claim your inheritance!" Dare we, beneficiaries of his legacy, forget to treasure it and to transmit it to our children and teach them to pass it on to their children so that it will live in perpetuity. 

Our Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Our man of the century and for time
immemorial.
We honor you for the life you lived
and for the things you have done.
Oh Civil Rights champion par excellence
and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, America -
your beloved and native land - has
established, in your honor,  the National
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.
Your contemporaries cherish your legacy 
And they are confident that generation 
after generation will also treasure it.

Your presence is pronounced.
It will live in perpetuity.
Martin Luther King Jr., we love you,
we salute you, we thank you.  

{This discourse, except for the lyrics at the end, is taken verbatim from Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott - My Personal Story (pp. 165-181) by Uriah J. Fields}

The Author's Request: Please forward this web site (www.uriahfields.com) to your email contacts, especially to young people, and encourage them to read the "Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you. -ujf  

Copyright 2002 by Uriah J. Fields 

 




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