By John Scolaro, Professor, Humanities and Senior Teaching Fellow
As you may already know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray, shortly after 6 p.m., on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 39. Ray, a small-time criminal and sole assassin, was found guilty of this horrific act and was sentenced to 99 years in prison on March 10, 1969. Dr. King, along with other Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) associates, were invited to Memphis in support of a sanitation workers’ strike.
In memory of Dr. King, may we celebrate the above-referenced day each year and remember forever the impressive contributions of Dr. King as a civil rights activist and formidable advocate of nonviolence since the mid-1950s. In fact, based on Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to about 250,000 attendees of the March on Washington, here are several memorable ideas worthy of note:
Freedom of speech. The first amendment of the United States Constitution, otherwise known as the Freedom of Speech, was adopted on December 15, 1791. King’s poignant language and words addressed diverse forms of racial injustice, including his opposition to poverty and unemployment. Dr. King understood that silence only gives consent. A more viable option is to “speak out” rather than to remain silent. This important aspect of the Civil Rights Movement is still intact today and should be embraced by all in an unequivocal way.
Nonviolent protests. Even though the black nationalist leader Malcolm X favored a more confrontational approach to change and condemned King’s advocacy of nonviolence as “criminal,” Dr. King was convinced that creative protests must not be permitted to degenerate into physical violence. As Dr. King once said: “… we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” In other words, our thirst for freedom will not be satisfied if we drink from the “cup” of bitterness and hatred. Instead, dignity and discipline are the more effective options to embrace in our quest for freedom.
Inclusiveness. Dr. King’s dream was deeply rooted in the American dream that “… all men are created equal.” He was convinced that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners would, one day, be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood, and that children would, one day, live in a nation where they would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. In other words, the mentality of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness will help us, as Americans, achieve equality for all.
I am hoping that, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you still have a dream, and that your dream will, one day, come true. And when that happens, as Dr. King said, all of us will be free at last. May Dr. King’s dream live with us forever.