Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motelin Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.
Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.
On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day he was shot dead by a sniper.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. or the King as he is affectionally known all over the world, mean in today’s world?! Does his ideals; deeply influenced by his ideological pillar Mohandas K. Gandhi ( whose ideals continue to be questioned even today ); hold forth even today?! Can we imagine in today’s brutal world of conflict and wars, a non-violent protest to demand the basic human rights that every human must get?
What the King achieved is nothing short of a feat of superhuman strength. His idol, Gandhi revolutionized a country and secured independence from a 300 year old colonial power. The King did not do that. The King instead fought for his community’s rights in a society which shunned egalitarianism to its teeth. From the time of the legendary Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals for his sterling feats on the track in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games – Hitler famously refused to commemorate him with the medals. There have been unmentionable atrocities faced by the Blacks. What the King sought to achieve was equality, as was said in the famous line of the Academy Award winning movie Lincoln,
Thaddeus Stevens: How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking, the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio, proof that some men ARE inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wits impermeable to reason with cold, pallid slime in their veins instead of hot blood! You are more reptile than man, Mr. Pendleton, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you! Yet even YOU, Pendleton, who should have been gibbetted for treason long before today, even worthless, unworthy you deserve to be treated equally before the law! And so again, I say that I do not hold with equality in all things, only with EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW!
I would not dwell into Lincoln here for want to time and you, the reader’s short attention span. It’s said about some men that they could not achieve much alive than that they achieved by dying. The King did more in both the instances. He laid the foundation for the African-American community in the USA and by the extension in the whole of the world to realize their potential in the free new world. From Booker T Washington to Rosa Parks to the King, they all fought for their rights, for the rights of everyone, and gave a light of hope to the whole world.
And what is the King’s impact in today’s world?! I feel that it can be illustrated in another powerful dialogue said by a soldier to Abraham Lincoln in the same movie:
Corporal Ira Clark: Now that white people have accustomed themselves to seeing negro men with guns fighting on their behalf, and even getting the same pay, in a few years perhaps they can abide the idea of negro lieutenants and captains. In fifty years, maybe a negro colonel. In a hundred years, the vote.
If from a time when the Blacks were slave, to the time of the Civil War – where they fought to search for their identity in the United States of America, to the time that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for Black equality. If after all this, today we see a Black American President – then it signals Change. It signals Hope, hope that the world is not such a bad place after all. The first Black American President heralds a new dimension in today’s world – that anything is possible today.