Sunday, January 17, 2010
Martin Luther King Jr.'s lesson to us all
Most people know about Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington. They know about his assassination. However, what is not talked about is how King started as a freedom fighter.
The King story started with Rosa Parks. Ms. Parks was a woman who was tired from working and just fed up one day. On December 1st, 1955 Ms. Parks had enough and refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery Alabama to a white passenger. That led to her arrest and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a minister with a church to run. He had followed in his father’s footsteps. One can imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. had enough to do in being a husband, a father and a minister to his flock. He did not seek to rise to leadership. Dr. King was simply running his church and minding his own business.
Instead, upon the arrest of Parks, African American leaders in the Montgomery area, such as M.L. Nixon, looked to someone who had not been influenced by the local white supremacy of the day to lead their Montgomery Improvement Association. Such leaders did not want someone who was afraid or someone who had cut a previous deal. Thus, the young minister Martin Luther King, Jr. was perfect to be named head of “MIA.”
As head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, King led a successful boycott. African Americans were the biggest consumers of the bus services offered by the Montgomery Transit Authority. As such, the African American boycott of the Montgomery buses hit the finances of the white supremacists that ran the buses hard. King’s boycott had them on their financial knees.
On their knees, the racists fought back. King’s idea of using car pools and taxi cabs was hit hard. Town ordinances were passed to take the license of any cab driver who charged less than the bus fare for a ride. King himself was arrested for trying to hamper the bus service.
It was that arrest of King that made national headlines. King, with peace and dignity, complied with the arrest and paid the $500 fine proudly. The racists who had underestimated King then began the descent down the slope to their demise. For the price of a simple arrest and a $500 fine, Martin Luther King, Jr. exposed the injustice that was life for an African American. From that point forward, the Montgomery Transit Authority had to rethink how it did business. Martin Luther King, Jr. would rise to iconic status, and his method of peacefully fighting for justice would become so ingrained in American culture that a national holiday would be created in King’s honor.
The holiday for King is fitting. King was a hero to the cause of freedom and justice. However, we should also remember how it started. King’s rise started with a woman fed up who was too tired to get up and give up her seat. King’s status was exalted by men who did not want to have the burden of leadership. They chose the young preacher instead.
It is a lesson for us all. Dr King taught us that if we commit ourselves to the right things, we can rise up to do what is right when our time comes. It matters not how we got to the point. Our own plan for our lives does not matter. If we believe in the right, and believe we must do what is right, when the time comes to stand up, we must do it. And, as Dr. King taught us, when we answer that call to do what is right, the difference we make for people can be tremendous.
If you think you cannot do what is right or make a difference, remember that young preacher called to lead in difficult circumstances. Even those who professed to support him in 1955 offered him up as the one to be attacked. Yet that young preacher did what he saw right and prevailed to a level that launched his legacy to perpetuity and forever changed America. Perhaps you cannot change America, but the legacy of Dr. King and his humble start should inspire you to at least change the world around you, one peaceful act for justice at a time.