“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood” Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.
In his book, “The Heart of America: Ten Core Values That Make Our Country Great”, Bill Halamandaris listed ten core values that built America. Ten values with proven ability to build a world superpower:
Compassion Opportunity Responsibility Equality
Valour Ambition Liberty Unity Enterprise Spirituality
In this case study of the value Equality, we look at an individual who provides an excellent example of what it means and what it does for a nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born 15th January, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the first son and second child of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Dr King attended Booker T. Washington High School. At the age of 15, he progressed to Morehouse College where he graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. After graduation, King enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. With a fellowship won at Crozer, King began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University and received a Doctor of Philosophy degree on the 5th of June, 1955.
In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he was twenty-five years old. Always an advocate of civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. In December 1955, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was the first Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States. The boycott lasted 382 days, during which King was arrested, subjected to personal abuse, his home was bombed but he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.
The strike only stopped when the United States Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a district court to the effect that Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses were unconstitutional. That meant African Americans were allowed to sit anywhere in the bus and did not have to give up their seats to white Americans.
The impact of this well mobilised and organised protest was not limited to the ruling against racial segregation but it inspired further campaigns against all other existing areas of segregation in the American society. Other campaigns were organised and led by Dr King and SCLC, joining with other civil rights movements to fight for other rights i.e., voting rights, labour rights, jobs and better pay for blacks and poor whites, appropriate civil rights legislations and an end to racial segregation in all facets of the society. These campaigns include the Alabama Movement of 1961, the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, the St Augustine Florida Campaign of 1964, Selma Alabama Campaign of 1964 and 1965 and Chicago Campaign of 1966.
All these culminated in the passage into law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1967, Dr King and SCLC launched the Poor Peoples Campaign to fight poverty. This movement shifted focus from civil right to the fight against economic inequality in America, which was a product of long years of segregation. Using peaceful marches, lobbying and speeches, this campaign fought for the provision of decent housing, better education and more job opportunities and training for African Americans, other minorities and white Americans. It was during this phase of the battle that he was assassinated. Dr King did not see his campaign as a fight for blacks only, but primarily as a fight for a better America in line with the vision of her founders – a nation that is prosperous with proper distribution of wealth and protects equally, the rights and opportunities for its diverse people.
America still have cases of racial discrimination but it is now a society where minorities are able to study in whatever field of endeavour and at any institution, choose where they live, who they vote for and even aspire to the office of Presidency.
At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 for the furtherance of the civil rights movement. He is frequently referenced as a human rights icon globally and has inspired many more civil rights movements around the world (including movements in South Africa).
There are very few individuals whose name, speeches and legacy have often been invoked as Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr. On the evening of 4th April 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated. He died at the age of 39. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was declared a US national holiday in 1986.
What can we learn about Equality from the story of this great citizen?
Equality is an attitude: It is primarily about what we believe which then manifest in what we do. Dr King lived out this attitude everyday and in everywhere.
Equality calls for our action: This nation-building core value will compel us to take action against the numerous injustices in Nigeria, by speaking out and undertaking consistent action. For Dr King, the equality motivated him to take numerous actions, not minding the attacks and threats.
The fight for equality is sacrificial: Yes, it will be a fight to ensure equality is instituted in our homes, workplace, community and nation. Dr. King laid down his life for this cause. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for this cause. Not all of us will make that level of sacrifice but a measure of sacrifice will be demanded.
Equality showcases our values: The core values of Compassion, Opportunity, Responsibility, Valour, Ambition, Liberty, Unity, Enterprise and Spirituality are highly visible is the story of Dr King. For example, faced with daily threat to his life, he still pressed on with his various campaigns with valour (courage).
There is no doubt, the expression of our attitude of equality in our daily lives will be against the current culture and that means, we will encounter resistance from people close to us and those distant from us.
Keeping in mind the benefits that will accrue if we don’t waver; it is worth adopting this value and persisting with courage. Let us see and treat people as our equals and let us fight for the oppressed to be treated as equals too.
Will Dr King’s story compel you to live a sacrificial life for the oppressed, like he did?