As the nation prepares to observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy this upcoming Monday, a closer look is taken at his fearless freedom struggles.
Born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a devout church-going leader in his community.
After being spotlighted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott during 1955/56, the young Baptist minister motivated hundreds of thousands nationwide to protest peacefully against the overt racism that has been so prevalent in this country since its inception.
He continued utilizing non-violence as a means when he led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Aug. 28, 1963, and continued being an advocate of non-violence until his April 4, 1968 assassination in Memphis, Tenn.
However, during the later stages of his life, the peaceful preacher began to incorporate other strategies to attain the same measures.
“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena,” King suggested during his “Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement” dissertation at the American Psychology Associations’ annual convention in Washington, D.C, on Sept. 1, 1967. “They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the [Caucasian] community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting, which is their principal feature, serves many functions.”
He added, “Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the [Caucasian] man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the [Caucasian] man. These are often difficult things to say, but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”
Actor/activist, Harry Belafonte, shared a similar moment about his friend. “Midway through the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the struggle for integration would ultimately become a struggle for economic rights,” Belafonte reflected. “I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was?”
According to Belafonte, King responded, “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know we will win, but I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house. I’m afraid that America has lost the moral vision she may have had, and I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”
Belafonte added, “That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle.”
Belafonte said he asked King, “What should we do?” and King replied that we should, “become the firemen.” King said, “Let us not stand by and let the house burn.”
Five decades later, and the burning house, America, is still engulfed in flames, and millions of its unwitting victims are in dire need of first aid treatment.