On the third Monday of each January, Americans honor the memory of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a Baptist minister from the southern state of Alabama, and a leader in the fight against racial inequality in the United States. On January 15th, he would have celebrated his 93rd birthday.
At a time of rampant violence against African Americans who sought to change a system of virtual apartheid in some regions of the United States, Dr. King led a civil rights movement that focused on nonviolent protest. Heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King developed a set of six principles that guided the actions of civil rights protestors as they staged mass-action boycotts, sit-ins, peaceful marches and other non-violent acts of civil disobedience. He detailed them in his book, “Stride Toward Freedom.”
The first states that nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people and a resistance to evil.
Second, nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding and engenders redemption and reconciliation.
Next, nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people, since it recognizes that evildoers are not evil people but are also victims.
The fourth principle holds that suffering can educate and transform, and accepts suffering without retaliation. When unearned, suffering has educational and transforming possibilities.
According to the fifth principle, nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
The sixth principle on nonviolence posits that the universe is on the side of justice. Less than a week before his death he proclaimed that “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Dr. King’s, and the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest achievement came in 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act which outlawed segregation in public places, as well as employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin.
Dr. King was thirty-nine years old when he died by an assassin's bullet on April 4th, 1968. But his legacy lives on. Within a decade, segregationist laws were repealed, and today discrimination is a reviled and legally punishable offence.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s life may be assessed through the lens of his own proclamation that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
He will not be found wanting.