Sunday, April 8, 2018

Fifty years after Dr. King’s assassination: I remember most how he lived

  I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was walking across the Harvard Law School Yard. It was dust dark. A fellow Harvard Law School classmate was walking in the opposite direction. He just said, “They killed him.” He didn’t say who they killed, but I knew from the tone, inflection and weight in his voice. It was April 4, 1968. The “him” was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  It has now been 50 years since that fateful day. I can still feel the intense pain. I can still feel the exploding hurt. I can still feel the profound loss. Still, I don’t want to focus on the terrible death on that one day. Rather, I want to focus on the life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived during the 14,324 days starting January 15, 1929, his date of birth, and ending April 4, 1968, his date of death. It was truly an extraordinary life.

  Dr. King came from the upper rungs of Black society. He was born Michael King but his name was changed to Martin Luther King, Jr. His father was a successful Baptist minister with a prestigious church in Atlanta. He was educated at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University, achieving a PhD degree. But he spent his life trying to help those on the lower rungs of life: the shut out; the racially oppressed; the downtrodden; the poverty-stricken; etc.

  Dr. King believed in nonviolence. It was not just a movement strategy or tactic for him. It was a way of life. He really practiced nonviolence. When he was hit, he didn’t hit back. When he was stabbed, he did not insist on punishment. When his home was bombed, he was just thankful that his family was not hurt. When he was attacked by the media, he didn’t attack back. When he was falsely charged with crimes and put to trial, he did not complain. When the FBI tried to destroy his marriage and make him commit suicide, he did not condemn. Dr. King believed in nonviolence and practiced it in his daily life right down to the very end. Still, he was violently attacked and violently killed by assassination.

  Dr. King was humble. He became one of the best-known persons in the whole world. He was lifted to dizzying heights, even receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the public face of the four great Civil Rights Movement peaks: the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the Birmingham public accommodations struggle; the March On Washington; and the Selma voting rights struggle. In his death, he is the only non-President with a memorial on the Washington Mall and a national holiday held in his honor. But he remained humble. He would listen to all. He was never too big for the least of these.

  Dr. King had visions. We think he had dreams because he used the phrase, “I have a dream,” in his most famous public speech. But even that phrase set forth a vision. Dreams are about things for which we hope. Vision defines our hopes and fuels them with a plan to make them a reality. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, but his vision of peace and justice lives on with 50 years being just a way stop.

  What do we take from Dr. King’s life? First, he was a man of great love for humankind. He wanted the best for all human beings no matter their status or circumstances. Love guided his course and infused his actions. He was a man of love.

  Second, Dr. King was a man of peace and justice. He knew that there could be no real peace without real justice. They are but different sides of the same coin. Dr. King struggled every day to create justice and build peace. It was his mission. It was his vision. It was his life.

  Third, Dr. King was a man of total commitment. He stayed the course in spite of setbacks. He stayed the course in spite of hardships. He stayed the course in spite of attacks. He could not be scared off. He could not be bought off. He could not be pushed off. He just stayed the course. He was a man of great commitment.

  Fourth, Dr. King was brilliant. He was brilliant in his thinking. He was brilliant in his speaking. (No one spoke as brilliantly as Dr. King). He was brilliant in his writings. He was brilliant in his actions. (He helped change a country). He was brilliant in so many ways. He was just brilliant.

  Fifth, Dr. King was a man of courage. He risked death daily. He risked the ire of President Lyndon Baines Johnson by forcefully speaking out against the Vietnam War. He not only risked his own life, but he risked the lives of his family members as well. He was a man of courage.

  Sixth, Dr. King was a man of personal sacrifice. He did not accumulate the material things of life. He even gave the huge cash award from the Nobel Peace Prize to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization he headed. He didn’t own much while he was with us. He didn’t own many material things when he left us. But he left a great legacy. He was a man of personal sacrifice.

  Seventh, no person in the 20th Century touched the world more profoundly than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In life, he was an inspiration to those all over the world who were struggling against heavy oppression. In death, his inspiration transformed into legacy and spread universally. The impact of his legacy continues to this day some 50 years after his death and will continue for eons to come.

  Dr. King left a close family: a wife named Coretta Scott King; two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice; and two sons, Martin III and Dexter. The wife was left without a husband. The children were left without a father. But the children still had a mother, and the family carried on. They are part of the legacy. I still remember the day of his death, but what I remember most is how he lived his life.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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