“Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence in this world, it’s non-violence or nonexistence—that is where we are today.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968.
April 4, 1968—A day after delivering his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the second story balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His final speech, along with his leadership that contributed to the overall success of the civil rights movement, has created an everlasting legacy that will never die.
By no means am I calling it clairvoyance; however, King’s spirited foresight to prophesize his own death, as well as predict the current social injustice issues, like economic inequality and feasible housing, is a testimony to America’s habitual inclination to revert to war in place of peace.
That evening, in a crowded church rally, and just the day before his assassination, King stated, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. 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 has 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! My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
The campaign for a national holiday in MLK’s honor began almost immediately after his assassination. However, the campaign faced legislative opposition, and the bill for MLK, Jr. Day was not passed into law until 1983, under The Ronald Regan Administration.
Apart from King’s national holiday, he is remembered for his non-violent protests contrary to the brutally-enforced segregation by racist White Americans. King once said, “I feel that organized non-violence resistance is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use in breaking loose of the bondage of oppression.” Dr. King’s nonviolent strategy speaks for itself as it has led to numerous equal rights laws for all Americans.
The Bus Boycott of 1955, a time when Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks violated Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up their seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The two incidents, along with other indescribable acts of violence towards African Americans, triggered the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. King emerged as the leader of the boycott; however, during the 385-day protest, King’s home was bombed and also taken under police custody. The United States District Court eventually ruled that all Montgomery public buses were to be desegregated in the litigation of Browder v. Gayle, catapulting King into a national figure and the face of the Civil Rights Movement.
King once said, “If passive resistance means just passively accepting violence or injustice, if it means cowardice and stagnant passivity, then there is a difference. Because non-violent resistance does resist. It is dynamically active, it is passive physically, but it’s strongly active spiritually.”
In 1965, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined forces with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, which began the demonstration for the African American’s constitutional right to vote. King led three nonviolent protests, with countless protestors marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. These persistence non-violent protests led to President Lyndon B. Johnson passing The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Therefore, expanding the 14th and 15th amendments by banning racial discrimination in voting practices.
King stated, “After the Selma movement in 1965, we were able to get a voting rights bill. Now, all these things represent a stride, but we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It is more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It is much easier to integrate a lunch- counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary and decent housing conditions.”
What was intended as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Fair Housing Act was in the context of contentious debate within the Senate. However, the bill was quickly passed by the House of Representatives days after the assassination of King. The bill prohibited any discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, or sex. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 stands as the final great legislative achievement of the civil rights era.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a national holiday marking the birthday and legacy of man who sacrificed his life for the equality of all people in America. However, somehow, MLK, Jr. Day is misdirected from its initial intention. Its intent was never about using superficial things like coupons to buy a new mattress for half-price; it is a day of reflection, a day to reimagine the dream Martin Luther King, Jr. died for.
King once said, “So, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American 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 … I have a dream that little 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.”