Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

Remembering a Hero for Peace, Equality, and Justice

 “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And 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.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 These were the famous ending words of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech at Mason Temple Church in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. King was assassinated the following day.

This week will always mark the remembrance of a man who spoke in the pursuit of peace, equality, and love for an entire nation. President Lyndon B. Johnson referred to King as the “apostle of nonviolence.” A light had dimmed in a nation built upon hope and freedom. The devastating loss led to a change in history and the birth of one of America’s greatest legacy. With tragedy came social change.

People were enraged and shocked to hear of King’s sudden death. Rioting began to ripple through towns. Johnson knew the civil rights legislation needed to be passed soon. On April 11, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, or the Fair Housing Act, was passed and signed by Johnson. King will always be widely known as the face of the civil rights movement. His powerful voice drew in an unprecedented amount of people both black and white.

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Justice was also fought in the case of James Earl Ray, the suspect found guilty in King’s murder. His testimony was never heard. Ray’s fingerprints were found on the rifle as well as a scope and a pair of binoculars. He pleaded guilty to King’s murder on March 10, 1969, only to retract his confession claiming he was victim of conspiracy. Among Ray’s supporters were King’s closest loved ones. King’s son Dexter publicly met with Ray in 1977. His encounter impacted him enough to petition for Ray’s case to be reopened. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, also supported Ray’s innocence touching on how America will never know the true details behind the case.

One detail will always be widely known. Dr. Martin Luther King left an imprint in Untied States History that could never be erased. Activists still seeking equality and social change reflect and call upon the actions and values King represented through his courageous speeches. The Chicago Freedom Movement, edited by Mary Lou Finley, Bernard Lafayette Jr., James R. Ralph, and Pam Smith, speaks in depth of the trail of civil rights activism King colored throughout the North. In Peace and Freedom, speaks of Lafayette’s experience with King in what has come to be known in history as a battleground for racial equality: Selma. Lafayette was an associate of King’s in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and one of the main organizers of the actions taken in Selma.

“I felt Dr. King’s determination gave courage to the people who were trying to take a stand. When he talked about his dream, he spoke of something positive, rather than condemning the situation. His speech was a voice for change. He saw change coming. When he said, “Let freedom ring,” Dr. King gave the nation a unified voice.” –Bernard Lafayette Jr., In Peace and Freedom

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2016

A few days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 87 years old, we remember his spirit, contributions, and the tremendous impact he made on both American lives and our culture.

Last year for MLK Day, Bernard Lafayette, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and protege of Dr. King in the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke with CBS Evening News about the continuing influence of his mentor and the continued struggle for change through nonviolence.

LaFayette, author of In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma, took the directorship of the Alabama Voter Registration Project in Selma at just the age of 22. He first met Dr. King as a student in Nashville, and again in Raleigh after founding SNCC. The following description of his second meeting with Dr. King comes from his memoir, In Peace and Freedom:

"In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma" by Bernard LaFayette Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson foreword by Congressman John Robert Lewis afterword by Raymond ArsenaultWhen I talked with Dr. King, I was always inspired by his words. I felt uplifted, buoyed by his presence. When the Nashville students and I arrived in Raleigh to join ranks with his organization, SCLC, I was bursting with youthful enthusiasm. We were also joined by some of our northern support groups with a mixture of white and black individuals, all committed to a common cause. There was electricity in the air, the desire to join with others who had been jailed or beaten. Such meetings reinforced the notion that we were not alone; this collection of college students was bonded by our experiences, dedication, and determination.”

In Peace and Freedom is now available in paperback, and Lafayette is coeditor of the forthcoming The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North.

This Day in History…

Forty-nine years ago today, activists’ third and final attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery succeeded. It all started after the Civil Rights movement of 1864 was passed by President Johnson. African Americans were granted new rights, however the Jim Crow laws still remained intact, continuing to prevent a large portion of the black population from voting.

Despite this, John Lewis led fifty African Americans to the courthouse in Selma, Alabama, on registration day in the name of the equality and freedom. As a result, they were arrested and local judge James Hare implemented an injunction forbidding gatherings of three or more people organizing under the banner of civil rights. Even if three or more people were just talking about civil rights, this was considered a violation.

Martin Luther King Jr. was then contacted and brought in to form the Selma Voting Rights Movement in January 1965, which began protests in support of voting rights in various cities outside of Selma. As the organization grew, they began to attempt marches to appeal to higher authority in Montgomery, Alabama. After two previous attempts, the participants arrived at the state capitol forty-nine years ago today—a major win in the battle for civil rights.

Be sure to check out In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma by Bernard LaFayette Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson. Lafayette was one of the primary organizers of the Selma Voting Rights movement and participated in these historic marches. This electrifying memoir depicts the inspiring story of his time in Selma and presents an intriguing perspective on the civil rights movement from one of its greatest leaders.