Martin Luther King (1929-1968) was an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States. A national memorial is located in West Potomac Park in Washington D.C. It was opened to the public on August 22. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall. He is only the fourth non-President to be memorialized in such a way.
Moses, according to Exodus, led the Jews from bondage in ancient Egypt to the “promised land.”
Ghandi, used nonviolent mass civil disobedience, leading India to independence from the British and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. King followed the non-violent civil disobedience principles of Ghandi in leading the civil rights movement in the United States. He was inspired by Ghandi and visited his birthplace in India in 1959.
Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist in the African National Congress that brought multi-racial democracy to South Africa in 1994. Following a 27-year imprisonment he became President of South Africa from 1994-1999 introducing policies aimed at combating poverty and inequality in South Africa.
Like Moses, Dr. King led African-Americans in their struggle to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means.
As did Ghandi, King led the United States non-violently to civil rights and freedom for African-Americans and the downtrodden poverty stricken populace of all races.
Like Mandela, King combatted poverty and inequality in the United States.
All four, Moses, Ghandi, Mandela and King, began from relatively humble beginnings. Moses began as an abandoned infant cast adrift in the Nile River of Egypt, later to become a shepherd for forty-years. Ghandi began a bit better, being the son of a diwan (a high official) of Porbander state in the Kathiawar Agency of British India. Mandela was the son of a chief of the town of Mvezo in South Africa. Dr. King was born in Atlanta. His father was the pastor of an Atlanta Church.
Moses never entered the “promised land” though he saw it from atop Pisgah up Mount Nebo. He died there.
Dr. King’s famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” his last speech given in Memphis, Tennessee the day before he was assassinated, prompts one to reflect on Moses and his inability to enter the “promised land.” In part, King said:
“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
How prophetic those remarks given on April 3, 1968 were.
Much of King’s journey was broadcast on TV. I watched with repulsion, like thousands of others, the brutal activities of Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama. Connor infamously directed the use of fire hoses, and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators, including children. Connor’s well publicized brutality did help, in large measure, to assure passage by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bigotry and discrimination still persists in the United States, I’m sad to say.