Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think the first time I heard MLK’s name, I was immediately prejudiced by it. As a Roman Catholic, I was put off by the Martin Luther part. In those days, Christian churches were less hospitable to one another, and “ecumenism” was just a twinkle in Angelo Roncalli’s eye. Then there was MLK’s voice, that pompous preacher voice so typical of television evangelists and revivalists. That too put me off. Let the words speak, I always said, with natural inflections, not the trumped up, singsongy delivery of a charlatan.

But through the years, I’ve grown to respect Dr. King’s legacy, primarily because of his steadfast commitment to non-violence. His message, that we should be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin (or the shape of our eyes or the extent of our handicap or the accent in our speech) is one for the ages. It applies to all of us. All of us.

DadObservations01/16/06 3 comments


Patrick • 01/16/06 11:22 PM:

I grew up in an in-between time, I think. Martin Luther King was beginning to get respect (the movement to celebrate his birthday began, in earnest, in the early 80s), and I think I received the slightly canonized version of the man (just as I received the canonized Beatles). My own children, of course, receive the sanitized, legendary version. In school, they’re taught that, basically, Martin Luther King did it all. Before, black people and white people had different stores and bathrooms and seats on the bus. This is not false, but it is also not so simple. Yet is MLK less deserving of his legend than, say, the Founding Fathers?

Nowadays, I don’t mind honoring MLK, and I never had those reactions against him like you did, Dad. But even without knowing the details, I know that he was a complex man, not the saint he’s portrayed as. And I’m okay with that. I sometimes call him an essayist, despite his preacher’s intonation and his obvious polemic. He has my respect and my ear, to listen to his message, which, truth be told, I’ve never much come in conflict with. But I can certainly do better.

David • 01/19/06 9:49 PM:

I think that Martin Luther King is correctly held in such high esteem. He did do great things. Although I don’t always remember it when asked, I would say that his book, “Why We Can’t Wait” is one of the best I’ve read. The book includes Letter From a Birmingham Jail - certainly one of the most profound essays I’ve read.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult the connection with his name. And I like his preacher voice, always have. It’s powerful.

Dan • 01/27/06 12:21 PM:

Wow. Dad, my experience is pretty different than yours. I learned about MLK well before I learned about ML, and back then I didn’t associate the names at all. Probably because I was 9 years old. But it probably took me another 10 years to “get it”, and by that time I was too exposed to MLK that I didn’t even think about it.

Either way, I’ve received the legendary version of him that Pat’s children are receiving. But is that bad? When you teach history, are you going to pass on character traits or historical progress? The important thing is his non-violent approach to equal rights and peace. That he was human and imperfect isn’t the the lesson.

MLK preached four decades ago, when civil rights was a political subject and racism trickled down to water fountains. That’s a world that only exists in photographs and textbooks to me.

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