An Inspirational Leader: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
1. Our final written report was about The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. written by Clayborne Carson. Martin Luther King Jr. is a man that has played a major role in American history. His impact on society makes him a key figure of interest from the civil rights period. He was one of the first African American leaders that I learned about in school. I have heard his story told and retold repeatedly. I found that I was able to acquire new insight toward the knowledge that was presented to me previously by reading this Autobiography.
I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. being a civil rights leader and his, “I have a dream speech.” I never really learned about the actual positions he played in the civil rights movement before reading this book. I do not believe that I have heard the entire dream speech. The fact is that even though I was saturated with information about him I never learned the details about his actions or beliefs. I knew that he was a preacher but I did not know that his father and father-in-law were preachers as well. It was also interesting to learn that his father played a leading role in the NAACP. I feel like that information gives me insight into the culture that he was from and an understanding of his organizational ability. The ability to lead can be natural or it can be developed. I believe Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership ability was something that he developed for himself and had natured by a system of supportive people.
I had heard people say that he also was adulterous. The book never spoke about infidelity but it did aid comprehension about the subject. He would talk to his mother about women he dated and his perceptions of dating. In one letter to his mom, he wrote that the girls are running him down (King Jr., 1998, pg.19). He would also write about his feelings of being away from his wife while working. It was fascinating to get a chance to learn about the emotional state of the man and not just the image of the leader.
2. Dr. King developed his philosophy for nonviolent protest through a process of learning and growth. While he was attending seminary school at Crozer he began learning the philosophical teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill, and Locke (King Jr., 1998,pg.17). His social-consciousness was stimulated by learning about Walter Rauschenbusch. I believe that when Dr. King read Karl Marx he was forced to confront an oppositional idealogy. In reading his thoughts about Marxism I learned about his process of facing an opposing point of view. His manner of addressing the communist system was intellectual and fair-minded. I believe his education helped to design his scholarly approach to opposing political views and that was a piece in the foundation to his future leadership style.
King’s learning about communism was also critical in his addressing his own political system. He was challenged to face the shortcomings of capitalism as he critiqued the Marx’s ideas. This was important because it helped him to define his beliefs.
There was a period of time that King believed that revolution was an act of armament. He said that it was during a period of religious doubt he was shaken by Nietzsche’s philosophy (King Jr., 1998,pg.23). It is around this same time that he discovered the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He derived a belief in the force of love. I think that this idea is the driving force behind his nonviolent protests. It is when he confronts his beliefs of Gandhi’s nonviolent approach against a new belief he has discovered from Reinhold Niebuhr that he commits to nonviolence completely. Niebuhr’s beliefs cause King to question his philosophy and he wrote,
At first, Niebuhr’s critique of pacifism left me in a state of confusion. As I continued to read, however, Icame to see more and more the shortcomings of his position. For instance, many of his statements revealed that he interpreted pacisfism as a sort of passive non-resistance to evil expressing naïve trust in the power of love. But this was a serious distortion. My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of defference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart (King Jr., 1998,pg.26).
3. Dr. King’s first steps to addressing segregation in Montgomery began in his church. He became a member of the NAACP and asserted the importance of doing so to his congregation. He then organized a social and political action committee to create an environment of socially informed people. This would help the boycotters to organize and stay unified during the bus boycott.
Another crucial element in his approach to segregation was in combining both the approaches of the NAACP and the Council on Human Relations towards integration. It was the NAACP’s belief that legislation and court action would be the solution and the the Council on Human Relations believed that education would be the answer. He said, “Through education we seek to change attitudes and internal feelings; through legislation and court orders we seek to regulate behavior” (King Jr., 1998,pg.49).
The bus boycott became a defining moment in King’s life the moment that the Suprem Court declared Alabama’s laws of bus segregation were unconstitutional. The boycotters had suffered through almost a year of struggles in regards to their protest. They had been harassed by police and ticketed unjustly. Many had been arrested for participating in car pools. Dr. King had suffered through many adversities during this time too. He was arrested and had his house bombed.
The decision of the supreme court was rendered at a breaking point in which the city was close to delivering a crushing blow to the boycott in a petition against the car pools. After the Supreme Court ruling the threats of the Ku Klux Klan were not able to strike the same fear that they did before and it was a new situation for the people of Alabama. Dr. King was in a position in the front of this new day and the people remember him for that fact.
I don’t think that people would be able to create a change in a similar manner as in Montgomery. The first reason is that people are no longer oppressed in the same manner as they were at the time. Rosa Parks would not be allowed to be perceived as a hero. She would be publicly humiliated and ostracized. After that, her cause would lose strength. The same thing would happen to Dr. King. The second reason is that people are not as unified as they were in Montgomery. I think that part of the reason is that people with power have learned new ways to maintain their power. Therefore, it would require new strategies to accomplish their feats.
4. From the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” letter and “I have a Dream” speech, King’s goal can be identified fairly well. In my opinion, he had three things that he was trying to accomplish. The first thing was to highlight the act of segregation as an issue that was in need of correction. His second was to unify the citizens of the United States towards his plan of addressing segregation. The third aim he had was to motivate and reinforce the people that had already joined his cause to believe in their victory.
He used several ways to point out the fact that black people were suffering from racism and that it was time to address the issue. Statements such as, “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations” and “It is unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative” (King Jr., 1998, pg.189) from his letter from Birmingham jail are intellegent allusions to his targets moral reasoning. King refers to the assurances in the Emancipation Proclamation as being a bad check that were redeemed as insufficient funds by blacks. These and statements like these were all used to attach a moral connotation to the plight of African Americans.
He denounced other methods to correct segregation. In the I have a Dream speech he said “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force (King Jr., 1998, pg.225). King made situation and rising popularity of militant groups that were in favor of taking to arms. He spoke of his nonviolent movement with grandios terms and phrases in order lift his idea to a higher plateau.
Finally, he made sure to emphasize that the final outcome would be success in ending segregation. In his letter from jail he ended with, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” (King Jr., 1998, pg.204). I remind you that this was a letter to a group of men that were criticizing him. This quote is a good example of King’s ability to project his confidence and persuade his audience into his corner.
5. Based on King and his colleagues’ accomplishments I think there are certain characteristics that are important to create change. It is important to have education. Knowledge of current events and intel. The biggest is the ability to organize. Finally, is having good leadership.
King’s learning was an essential piece to his success. It took all the experience from the men he learned from to reach his goals. This would include the men he learned from in the scholarly years and the men he worked along side.
Their organizational use of information about what was going on and what would occur was vital. During the bus boycott, intel about ploys being used to deceive boycotters with a false ad was necessary to keep the movement going forward. Information is power and they were able to utilize that power to stave off their opponents long enough to succeed.
King is well known as a leader during the civil rights and several of the other activists have been celebrated. However, I don’t think that their leadership abilities are promoted as they should be. After reading King’s autobiography I can see the leadership skills and talent he had. It also means something when someone of his talents acknowledges the talent in those people around him. It is with his endorsement that I can truly believe those he accredits honors are worthy of praise.