Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (15th January 1929-4th April 1968) was one of the activists and prominent leaders in America. He was known for his African-American civil rights movement. Unlike many philosophers, Martin Luther King not only posed ideas just for the sake of displaying intellectual ability, but he believed only in the philosophies which have a substantial impact on human beings. He believed in equality, and justice and was against racism, violence, etc. He was head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; hence, organized various peaceful protests. In 1969, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, becoming the youngest person to receive it for his work and efforts to eliminate racial discrimination and segregation through non-violent means. He also worked towards ending poverty. His speech (about equality, justice, and peace), “I have a dream” became very famous and is considered a masterpiece of rhetoric.
‘I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ — Martin Luther King, Jr. / ‘I Have A Dream speech, August 28, 1963
He is referred as one of the most influential leaders in the world who through his campaigns, works, and efforts embedded in people what justice, equality, love, faith, and nonviolence is. He was assassinated on 4th April 1968. His work, life, leadership, and contribution to society at a macro level are honored with a national holiday; there are public buildings, schools, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington D.C named after him. He is still remembered by people as a visionary leader who had one focused of achieving social justice through civil disobedience and nonviolent means.
Being an aspirational leader, he had certain leadership traits which made him a great leader. Firstly, he had a clear and powerful vision. A vision to eliminate racial discrimination. His speeches were very impactful and famous making him a good communicator. His conviction, determination, confidence, and communication skills played a key role in gathering the attention of people. Moreover, he showed faith in his followers, he was not afraid to disrupt the social quo and he was successful in bringing the change which was needed. Most importantly he showed courage even at the time of danger and threat. He was brave enough to challenge powerful authorities and keep his point of view in front of them. Despite facing death threats, he never stepped back from his goals and kept on working to remove social injustice and spread peace, love, patience, and morality in people. Even when his home was bombed, he never stepped back, he continued to fight for equal rights, which shows his dedication and commitment towards achieving his goals. One of his quotes (in this regard) is: “Our lives began to end the day we became silent about things that matter.”
Philosophy- Nonviolent resistance, civil rights movement
During the civil rights movement, Martin Luther gained the attention of the nation by his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. For him, this philosophy was a mere solution for society’s evils. He was again racism, evil acts, etc., and believed that in order to eliminate social ills, love, respect, and equality is required. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and came up with the philosophy of nonviolent resistance. He got applauded for his famous speech “I have a dream” which shed light on economic and civil rights, further leading to the end of racism in the United States.
Martin Luther stated:
- “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
- According to him it was immoral and impractical to achieve racial justice through violence.
- His philosophy on nonviolent resistance included six principles of nonviolence:
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
- Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
- Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
- Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
- Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
- Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
What he meant by these six principles were that firstly, nonviolence is not a coward act and it should not be perceived that way. If one is not physically aggressive, it does not mean that their mind and emotions are not active. Moreover, nonviolent resistance believes in winning the hearts of people to strengthen friendship and understanding rather than a humiliating opponent. His third point emphasizes that there wasn’t war against people, instead, it was against evil and injustice. The main point of conflict was not between different races, it was between what justice is and what injustice is. Furthermore, being nonviolent requires the element of suffering as one may not retaliate against violence, having this firm belief that violence or injustice will never win in the long run. King believed that suffering is a powerful element that not only educates and transform people but also change the minds of opponent. According to the king, people have a cosmic relationship with God and God was always on side of truth and justice; hence, people had faith that justice will prevail.
Philosophy- Have a blueprint in your life:
In one of his speeches, Martin Luther King Jr. directed people to choose a proper blueprint for their lives. People should have a clear idea of the goal they want to achieve in their lives. He also taught the three ways to construct life’s blueprint, which include:
Always know your own dignity and somebodies. Do not let yourself down, consider your life significant
Be determined to achieve excellence. You have to decide the ultimate objective of your life. Once you will discover it, set out to complete that task. In order to explain his deep thoughts, he said:
“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree; if you can’t be a highway, just be a trail; if you can’t be a sun, be a star; for isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are”.
You must be committed to the principles of beauty, love, and justice. You should keep moving no matter how you move, but never remain stagnant.
Social Gospel: His social gospel was the idea to build a world in which there is no war, no unequal distribution of wealth, and no discrimination on the basis of race or color. He remained a proponent of this theory despite many setbacks in the civil movement.
Personalism: Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Where, Do We Go From Here, says that everyone is loved by God, and thus should be respected. Every man has an inner relationship with God. He believed that the worth of the human being lies in being related to God. And this philosophy influenced the people who worked hard to bring civil rights in America, as this showed that the thoughts and actions of human portray the love of God.
Gandhian satyagraha: During the Montgomery boycott of 1955-56, Martin Luther King Jr. used Gandhi’s concept of nonviolence which is more than not attacking your enemy. According to Gandhi, this type of nonviolence is known as satyagraha which means “truth-force” or “love-force”. This theory, besides being against of creating violence, says that the people should also try to seek truth and love too. Martin Luther King Jr. first understood this in a seminar. He mentioned this principle in the book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story written in 1958, he described the way he implemented this ideology during the Montgomery boycott. He also proposed his philosophy that the resistor should not only stop himself from shooting the opponent but also refuse to hate him.
The Three Major Evils:
In one of his speeches on the “Three Evils of Society”, Martin Luther Jr. explained the three evils in detail which include evil of racism, poverty, and war. According to him, these three types of evils are linked with each other. A brief detail which is drawn from his speech is given
The Evil of Racism: Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech that we have to work hard in the area of racism in America in which the dictatorship of white over blacks should be removed. Though till that time, they progressed a lot in South Land, but for him, the plant of freedom had grown only a bud; they had to grow it to a flower.
The Evil of Poverty: Martin Luther King Jr. said that at that point in time, around forty million people were poor. This is something that is prevalent for years in the entire world. But this time, they have resources, skills, and techniques to get rid of poverty.
The Evil of War:
His philosophy on nonviolent resistance also sheds light on his moral leadership and how much he valued ethics for that he distinguished between morality and immorality, between justice and injustice, etc. He was famous for the civil rights movement too and this was one of the reasons why he was praised as a moral leader. Those who have read his letter from Birmingham jail refer to him as one of the greatest moral philosophers of a nation.