Sometimes it just needs a very special moment to make someone immortal. In the case of Martin Luther King Jr. it was his famous speech in Washington, in which he described in 1963 his dream for America.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains an inspiration for many people
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. I have a dream that my four little 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. I have a dream today!"
These famous lines by the American civil rights activist and one of the finest orators in history have been quoted thousands of times all over the world. But despite that, these words have not lost their ability to electrify the masses. In King wanted an America in which all people, regardless of color, have the same opportunities. He wanted justice for all. The America that Martin Luther King dreamed of soon became a role model for the rest of the world. Martin Luther King's inspiration for his struggle was the Indian "Father of the Nation" Mahatma Gandhi.
Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in 1955
King and Gandhi
The charismatic King, who was just 34 years old at the time of his famous speech, had visited India a few years earlier. He described this visit to India in 1959 as his "pilgrimage" and said repeatedly that he considered Mahatma Gandhi's concept of non-violence as an eye-opener. Renowned Michael Nagler from the US, who authored many books on Gandhi, explained: "When Thurman asked Gandhi to come to the US in the mid 30’s he said, if I do that I would fail in India and I can accomplish nothing in America. But if I stay here, I can create a demonstration that others will be able to learn from and it may well be that the American negro would be the next community to adopt non violent method."
Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were both victims of humiliation and racism because of their skin color. In the case of Gandhi, it was a train ride that is considered to be the trigger for his fight against racial discrimination. Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 until 1914 and worked as a barrister there. One day he bought a first class train ticket, but was forced to sit in third class because of the color of his skin. When he refused to do so, he was thrown out of the train.
The impact of King's "I Have a Dream" speech is as strong today as ever
The case of Rosa Parks
Some sixty years later, the case of Rosa Parks from Montgomery triggered Martin Luther King's struggle in America. In Alabama in 1955, a 42-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger on a bus. King, then only 26, was infuriated and raised a storm of protest against her arrest. For 383 days, the black community of Montgomery boycotted local buses. The protest became so massive that the Supreme Court intervened, whereupon segregation was declared unconstitutional. King’s fearless and patient fight thus finally paid off and a new hero was born.
The eloquent and attractive King was able to charm all; he soon became the symbol of the hopes and dreams of many people for a better future. Peace activist Michael Nagler regrets that King did not have as much time as Gandhi for his fight.
"Gandhi wasn’t assassinated as quickly as Martin Luther King was here in the West. Gandhi basically had a lifetime. Fifty years of patient experimentation and applying non-violence in every single field of life. So, he is the true giant in every respect."
Gandhi's struggle in India was an inspiration for King
King’s popularity a phenomena
In 1958 King survived an assassination attempt. For his followers this was a sign that he was invulnerable and their faith in him grew. The charming King became the darling of the media. Like Gandhi, he drew his mental strength from his beliefs – principles like compassion, absolute truth and altruism. His faith in God gave him hope during the many times he was in jail. In 1963, he led his march in Washington which culminated in his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Here, again, King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. In 1930 Gandhi and his followers had protested in his famous Salt March against the monopoly of British salt production. Both marches became a prime example of how the masses can come together to put pressure on politicians.
In 1964, at just 35 years of age, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, making him the youngest ever recipient of the renowned award. Only four years later, in 1968, King was assassinated. A violent end for two men whose objective it was to defeat violence and injustice.
Author: Anwar Ashraf
Editor: Sarah Berning