Black America…as the country celebrates the life and legacy of one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known, it is time to ask a serious question – What Will You Sacrifice For Justice?
See, once again, through a federal holiday that is observed each year on the third Monday of January, is the time America chooses to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929.
While having a federal holiday is a significant way to salute someone who left such a rich legacy, it is even more fitting and proper to honor the life of Dr. King by truly understanding the fullness of his life, especially understanding the tremendous sacrifices he made towards “justice for all” in America.
Dr. King represented more than the often-used quotes we see or the memorable sound bytes we hear.
Dr. King represented the true meaning of making a sacrifice for justice. After all the beatings he endured; after all the marches and protests he led; after all of the time he spent in jail; and after all the demands for justice and equality he advocated for, there is no way that anyone can invoke the spirit of Dr. King into any meaningful dialogue without mentioning the willingness he had to sacrifice everything for justice.
How many people in America, who claim they love and honor Dr. King’s life and legacy, are willing to make the same level of sacrifices he made, in order to demand justice by any means necessary?
Let’s take a look at the timeline of a man who was dedicated to sacrificing for others.
In a little over 25 years of his being born to the Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr. in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, Dr. King graduated high school; got ordained as a minister; graduated Morehouse College; received his bachelor of divinity degree from Crozer; got married to Coretta Scott; preached his first sermon; became a pastor; obtained his doctorate of philosophy in systematic theology from Boston University; was elected to the executive committee of the Montgomery NAACP; and after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, he not only joined the bus boycott, he was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and became the bus boycott spokesman and leader. All of this was done by the year 1955 – when Dr. King was only 26 years old.
Now, let’s get down to some of the things that happened to this great man, who chose to put his life on the line for his people towards a pursuit of justice.
According to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (better known as “The King Center”), Dr. King went to jail nearly 30 times, including one of his first arrests happening in 1956 when he was thrown in jail in Montgomery, AL, for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.
In 1958 Dr. King survived an assassination attempt after he was stabbed at a book signing for his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, in Harlem, NY. In 1960, Dr. King was arrested in Atlanta during a sit-in, while waiting to be served at a restaurant and was sentenced to four months in jail. In 1961, Dr. King was arrested for obstructing the sidewalk and parading without a permit, after being asked to come to Albany, Georgia, for a protest to help desegregate public facilities there. In 1962, Dr. King was convicted for leading that protest in Albany, NY, and was jailed again in June of that same year for simply holding a prayer vigil in Albany.
In 1963, Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor had Dr. King and Ralph David Abernathy arrested for demonstrating without a permit, while Birmingham police used fire hoses and dogs against them and all of the protestors. While there in the Birmingham jail for several days, Dr. King wrote his stinging and prolific “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” prior to being released on bond. As a result of the Birmingham protests, stores, restaurants, and schools in Birmingham became desegregated; Blacks were allowed to be hired; and charges against the protesters were dropped. However, the day after the Birmingham desegregation settlement was reached White racists and segregationists bombed the Gaston Motel where Dr. King was staying, trying to kill him. Federal troops were subsequently sent to Birmingham, and on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy announced that there would be new civil rights legislation, and was the first U.S. president to publicly declare that segregation was morally and legally wrong. This same year, Dr. King was arrested in St. Augustine, FL, after once again protesting the integration of public accommodations.
In 1966, Dr. King didn’t just talk about it, he lived by example, after moving into a run-down and overcrowded apartment in Chicago, in order to attract attention to the living conditions of the poor. That same year, he led a “March Against Fear” and continued marching and protesting, including a march through Chicago on August 5, where Dr. King and others were stoned by a crowd of angry White people.
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction against Dr. King by a Birmingham court for demonstrating without a permit, and he spent four days in a Birmingham jail. That didn’t deter Dr. King’s drive for justice, as he announced the creation of the Poor People’s Campaign, focusing on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races, once he got out. Then on August 31, 1967, Dr. King delivered what many believe was one of his most powerful and revolutionary speeches of all time, called “The Three Evils of Society” speech, that took place in Chicago at the National Conference on New Politics.
In that speech, Dr. King boldly spoke to what he believed were the biggest issues facing America at that time in 1967 – war or militarism; poverty or excessive materialism; and racism. Dr. King stated:
“I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism…..Ever since the birth of our nation, White America has had a Schizophrenic personality on the question of race, she has been torn between selves. A self in which she proudly profess the great principle of democracy and a self in which she madly practices the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step backwards simultaneously with every step forward on the question of Racial Justice; to be at once attracted to the Negro and repelled by him, to love and to hate him. There has never been a solid, unified and determined thrust to make justice a reality for Afro-Americans. The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the White backlash, but the White backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there. It was caused neither by the cry of Black power nor by the unfortunate recent wave of riots in our cities. The White backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that has characterized America ever since the Black man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.”
Again, these are the strong and bold words of Dr. King – a man who was not afraid to speak truth to power; a man who was not afraid to sacrifice his freedom; and a man who was not afraid to lay down his life and suffer the uncomfortable realities of disenfranchisement for the sake of demanding “justice for all” in America. We see that Dr. King sacrificed everything, including his own life, for justice.
Now is the time for Black America to answer the question, “What Will You Sacrifice For Justice?” with the same answer that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave to it – EVERYTHING!