Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968 ) was an American civil rights leader who helped to overturn America’s racist laws. He read Gandhi and found a way to change America without violence. He was shot dead in Memphis in 1968. Although he was never president or even a senator or a general, he was still one of the greatest Americans of all time. The third Monday in January is a holiday in America to honour him.
Most people when they think of King think of him giving the “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. But the picture that sticks in my mind was when he was arrested five years before in Alabama.
I saw that picture when I was little. I asked my mother about it – it must be some kind of mistake. She said no, he broke the law. That made the picture an even deeper mystery: why would a good man break the law?
Because not all laws are just. Like bones, sometimes you must break laws to set them straight.
In the 1600s and 1700s blacks were brought from Africa to America in chains to work the land as slaves. It was a crying injustice that broke the nation in two in the middle of the 1800s: the free states in the North fought a terrible war against the slave states in the South.
The North won the war and freed the slaves. But then the South passed laws based on the colour of a man’s skin – the Jim Crow laws. And it went beyond mere laws: a whole society was built nakedly on the idea that all men are not created equal.
Blacks, for example, had to sit at the back of the bus: any seats in the front had to be given up to whites who wanted them.
Then one day in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat: she was sick and tired of being sick and tired. She was arrested. She was not the first black person to do that, but a young Christian minister, fresh from school, was able to turn that simple act into a mass movement where blacks stopped riding the buses in that city and so got the law changed. That young minister was Martin Luther King, Jr.
He went on and showed ordinary black people throughout the South how they could change the country if they stood together as one. He showed ordinary white people, through their television sets, the country’s shame through pictures, like with the march on Selma in 1965.
That and other things led to the overturning of the Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s.
Racism is more than just bad laws and racism is still far from over, yet all that made possible this day, January 20th 2009, when a black man will become president of the United States of America for the first time in history.
– Abagond, 2009.
- Jim Crow
- Barack Obama
- Race in America
- video, speeches, writings:
- Quoting MLK
- Malcolm X
- Jim Crow