By Chuck Doud
The Madera Tribune
Martin Luther King Day is a peculiar observance. That it is not called Civil Rights Day, and is instead named after a person, says some things
about how far our nation has come on the issue of civil rights. And also about King.
The Civil War was fought over civil rights — most particularly slavery. But even after slavery was made illegal, it nevertheless would take another century of conflicts before all Americans were deemed equal under the law. Most of those conflicts were carried out in the courts—and in pulpits.
By the time Martin Luther King was born Dec. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, there was a black middle class in the city that had once epitomized slavery.
King’s father was a prominent Baptist minister. He went to
Morehouse College in Atlanta before he had graduated high school. With a bachelor’s degree in sociology, he went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., where he received a bachelor of divinity
degree, and finally to Boston University, where he earned a
Ph.D. He also became a student of non-violence and was active
in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which became the most prominent civil rights advocacy group of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
King was by no means the sole civil rights activist of those times. But he was the best known. His “I Have a Dream” speech delivered during the March on Washington in 1963 was credited with promoting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That was the peak of his fame and influence.
In his last days, he spent less time on civil rights and more on opposing the Vietnam War. He also participated in efforts to help unions that represented black people. On April 4, 1968, while in Memphis for a labor rally, he was shot to death while standing on the balcony of the motel where he was staying.
Would we be celebrating his birthday today had he lived on into old age? It’s hard to say. His life was enabled by sacrifices of those who
worked before him. There is no doubt, though, that his death put the exclamation point at the end of his life.