Sunday, 12 January 2014

Martin Luther King Jr.: Beyond Racial Equality

On January 20, 2014, there will be a National Day of Service celebrated in the United States.  Many work places and schools will be closed. All across the country, people will volunteer to serve their communities. They make soup to deliver to places where poor people receive free meals; they clean parks and paint school rooms. They collect coats for the poor against winter's cold. Kids as young as 5 years old make craft items to raise money for people who have no homes.  Teenagers make posters and write letters in support of different social justice projects.

All of this is in memory of Martin Luther King Junior. He was an African American Baptist preacher. He is best known as a leader for racial equality in the United States. This short video tells some of that story:

But for Martin Luther King Junior, equality was about more than race. He understood that everyone needs education and work. He saw poverty as both immoral and dangerous to a democratic, civil society. Above all, he insisted that every person deserved respect and that each of us has the right to be heard and to be treated with decency.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, King organized non-violent public demonstrations to focus attention on his campaigns and to build support for the political reforms needed to make changes.

His last campaign is known as the Poor People's Campaign. It tried to unite blacks, other minorities, and poor whites in a movement to persuade the U.S. Congress to adopt an Economic Bill of Rights. A part of this campaign, in King's mind, was a strike by city sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to Memphis to give his backing to the strike on April 3, 1968. That night, he delivered a powerful speech, now called the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. The next day, he was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of his modest motel in Memphis.

After King's death in 1968, the Economic Bill of Rights was forgotten amidst political turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the presidential election. But the ideas King championed live on in his powerful speeches. They continue to inspire new movements worldwide for economic and social justice.

Martin Luther King Junior's speeches still have power. The most famous, the "I Have a Dream Speech," was given at a huge civil rights rally in Washington, D.C. in August of 1963. You can see the text and hear Dr. King give it at:

King's commitment to social justice for all people is at the root of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. He envisioned what he called "the Beloved Community." Citizens would build it by living according to the nation's principles and working together to solve social problems.

So on January 20, schools and banks will be closed in the U.S. But for many, it won't be a "day off." It will be a day of citizen action and service to others.

"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."
                                 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
                                 16 August 1967

Glossary: Some terms in the biographical video and in the above text can be found at

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