By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not seek leadership. When the need arose, leadership of Montgomery, Alabama sought him. Dr. King had no martyr complex, but he recognized that in order to live fully, men and women must be committed to something worthy of laying your life on the line for.
Dr. King taught us that to reorder our thinking to Kingdom priorities, we must recognize that greatness is solely the measure of one’s willingness to be the most humble servant, and out of that humility emerges rejection of second-class citizenship.
Hypocritically, the nation today places Dr. King on a silver platter. But the truth is that he was subjected to scorn, ridicule, and vilification from whites throughout his heroic ordeal, typified by the disrespect of Chicago Mayor Daley and Dr. King’s assault during open housing marches in Cicero.
Dr. King was victim of a home bombing in Atlanta and incessant threats on his life followed him even as he was under constant harassment by the FBI.
Not all his detractors were white. More militant Black leaders – such as Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), El Hajj Malik (Malcolm X) and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell III mocked him as “Martin Looser King” while hate-filled white bigots in the south hung him in effigy under the taunting signage: “Martin Luther Coon.”
Even more conservative, establishment-sanctioned African American leadership renounced and rained criticism on Dr. King. When Dr. King denounced but refused to disengage from the chorus of “Black Power” emerging from a younger generation of Black activists, African American civil rights leaders like Whitney Young of the National Urban League and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP grew increasingly uncomfortable with him.
Contrary to Black bourgeois leaders, Dr. King believed that it was too simplistic to scapegoat the radical pleas of black youth for the public policy failings of a federal government that was not genuinely interested in social equality. The all-too familiar tune of “cooperation from below will lead to change from above,” was soundly rejected by Dr. King, much to the chagrin of Black elites who were beginning to reach for the economic carrot dangled before them in the form of federal government dollars.
Yet Dr. King remained unfazed. It was that Godly demeanor, perspective, vision and courage that separates him from the leaders of his or any time – Black or White.
Speaking of courage, speechwriters working with Dr. King during the famous March on Washington in 1963 strongly suggested that the civil rights leader make a few changes to his final draft. Seems that they liked everything about the speech except the phrase, “I have a dream.” Dr. King instead went with his instincts. The rest is history. He stood for what he believed.
Perhaps most useful in remembering Dr. King is putting his powerful eloquence into every day context – applying his words to the issues of today. Here are a few of King’s pearls of wisdom to help remind you how his message continues to resonate:
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.”
“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.”
“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].