Martin Luther King: An American Original

by Peggy Butler

Premise: Although the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Commemoration is 4 months away, questions have surfaced as to whether the holiday is a bona fide celebration, wherein all races participate, or primarily an ethnic festivity, limited to African-Americans? This essay seeks to determine answers to the aforementioned question.

Martin Luther King Jr: An American Original

The winds of hate and turbulence seared the heart of the South in the 50s and 60s. It was a time when Blacks stopped shuffling to America’s dance of servitude, and created their own waltz of deliverance from bondage. The man who led Southern Blacks to freedom after years of captivity was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From a distance, he appeared to the average person as just another Black man. But there was nothing average about this Georgia native. He was remarkably charismatic, with the wisdom of a prophet, and the voice of a hollow drum rumbling in the Congo. King was on the surface, a powerful minister who called on love and vindication to quench the raging fire of racial discrimination. In a span of 13 years (1955-1968), he boldly marched his people into the Promise Land, as did Moses with the Israelites.

For 400 years Blacks had been told to wait. Wait for justice. Wait for equality. Wait for the right to be treated with courtesy and respect. Wait for the right to vote. Wait for the right to enter the front door of a hotel or restaurant, without being arrested by law enforcement officials. Now the wait was over, and the Day of Redemption was dawning.

He was our gallant warrior, battling a vicious White establishment that continued to inflict second-class citizenship upon its Black inhabitants. King was both a leader and a strategist. He was not willing to settle for less than what he asked for, and procured more for Blacks than they were able to attain in four centuries under the auspices of White dictatorship. Thirty-one years after his assassination, King is still proclaimed the greatest Black leader of the 20th century. His efforts to unite the oppressed and the free brought him many awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. King’s vehicles of protest were the sit-ins , boycotts and marches. “We Shall Overcome” was his rallying cry and the cities of Selma and Montgomery, the battlegrounds where he fought for our rights.

He showed a nation of 22,000,000; African-Americans why they could no longer remain buried under the shackles of oppression. As America’s perennial Black leader, he often wondered why he had been chosen to bear such a heavy cross. Upon his shoulders we hoisted our hopes and dreams, and he never complained. Often the ghost of uncertainity hunted him with relentless zeal, still he held onto God’s hands, and with us as his disciples, he was victorious.

A Celebration of Hope

On January 17, Americans of all races will set aside their differences, and for 24 hours pay tribute to the grandson of a former slave, who fulfilled the Biblical adage, “He who is last shall be first, and He who is first shall be last.

Since the inception of the King holiday 13 years ago, many observers argue this is a day, which should be observed and celebrated solely by African-Americans. However, experts contend this assessment is wrong. They maintain, not only did King free Blacks, he also freed Whites from their dungeon of hostility. This then is not a holiday for rest and relaxation. This is a day for study, enlightenment, and the preparation of future victories. It is a day for measuring ourselves against the yardstick of Dr. King’s vision. And if we ever loved him, we will use the new millennium to mobilize ourselves against the malignancy of racism and violence, which seeks to destroy this country.

Keeping the Dream Alive in the 21st Century

It is not enough to honor King; it is necessary also to vindicate him by letting his light shine in our lives. As Blacks we are challenged to bring his dream to fruition. We can do that by believing in ourselves and using every available resource to make us a better race, instead of one that constantly complains, and refuses to take advantage of the opportunities we have because of this great American.

Beyond all that, we remember his most poignant creed, hope. For Dr. King never stopped hoping. He never ceased to believe that the Dream and the Dreamers would prevail. And if he could speak to us from beyond the grave, he would tell us that nothing can stop us if we keep the faith.

His memory lives on, and so we go forth, knowing there is still much work to be done, before African-Americans are truly, “Free at last, Free at last.”

Martin Luther King Jr: An American Original by Peggy Butler

© Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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