History: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1929 – 1968 #MLK

The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Shalom, everyone! We remember the life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was the “Moses” of our time. Through his selfless service and sacrifice, we enjoy freedoms today that were unthinkable only 50+ years ago. Though we have come a long way since the Civil Rights era, we still have a far way to go until all citizens, regardless of race, color, creed or gender, can truly say that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are available to all.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a young boy.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Baptist minister Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King.  He grew up in a time when racial segregation was the social order, especially in the Deep South. African-Americans were denied basic human rights on every level: Denied access to employment, housing, lodging, medical care, education, due process, the right to vote, and other rights and privileges solely because of race. Dr. King, however, succeeded in spite of the many barriers he faced. He left high school at 15 to attend Morehouse College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology; he later earned his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956.

Dr. King‘s early influences included Howard Thurman and Mahatma Gandhi, who espoused the use of non-violent protest to achieve civil rights and social justice. Early in his career as a Baptist minister, Dr. King became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, after an African-American woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The boycott was successful, lasting 385 days and culminating in a United States District Court ruling ending racial segregation on all public buses in Montgomery. Dr. King later became the founding president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and worked with other civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)  and the National Urban League, to organize black churches to participate in non-violent protests for civil rights. Their efforts gained national and international attention. After years of protests, marches, and the epic March on Washington in 1963, the Civil Rights Act became federal law in 1964, outlawing all forms of racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination in the United States. Racial segregation was outlawed in schools, the workplace and in public places. The Voting Rights Acts soon followed, granting all United States citizens, regardless of race, color, creed or gender, the right to vote. We now present Dr. King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he gave during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – “I Have A Dream” (1963)

Video from CESSqc/YouTube channel

One should never forget that the freedoms we enjoy today came at a very high price. Many involved in the Civil Rights Movement were falsely imprisoned, beaten by mobs and police, bitten by police dogs, hosed down by water cannons, abused and even killed. The Civil Rights Movement had within its ranks members of all races, colors, and creeds, each one paying a price in their own way. For this, we should never take for granted the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. Someone suffered greatly so that we could have life, liberty and the pursuit of happinessDr. King was under constant threat of assassination or bodily harm throughout his career. Nevertheless, he stayed the course, putting the welfare of others ahead of his own.

After the enactments of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Dr. King focused his efforts on economic justice, championing the causes of the poor. In 1968, Dr. King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign“, a movement concerned with achieving an economic “bill of rights”: All people should have access to decent housing, education, healthcare, employment and the ability to improve one’s status in life. The Campaign organized marches and protests around the country and even constructed a “tent city” on the Washington Mall, which stood for six weeks. The Campaign, however, did not achieve its aims and suffered a fatal blow with the assassination of Dr. King in 1968.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to champion the cause of African-American public works employees, protesting for better wages, treatment, and working conditions. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he and his entourage had been staying. He was only 39 years old. He left behind his wife, Coretta Scott King, and four young children, Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King delivering his final speech on April 3, 1968.

We did some research on Dr. King‘s birthday, January 15, 1929. This date corresponds to the 4th of Shevat 5689 on the modern Hebrew Calendar. The Torah portion for the week of Dr. King‘s birth was “Bo,” Exodus 10:1 – 13:16. In this Torah portion, YHVH (YHVH) commands Moses to go in unto Pharaoh and tell him to let the Children of Israel go. We do not believe that this is a mere coincidence with respect to Dr. King‘s own date of birth thousands of years later. Dr. King was like a “Moses” of his time, with a similar mission for his people in the United States as Moses had for the Children of Israel – a mission to safeguard and protect freedom, human dignity and well-being for all people.

We now present another of Dr. King‘s the most memorable speeches, the “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” speech, which he gave on April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination. He seemed to have a premonition that his life would end very soon. Like Moses, he never got to enter the “Promised Land” nevertheless, he got to see it through setting events in motion that, at least, made civil rights violations illegal. Like Moses, he was humble, yet very powerful and determined in his mission to achieve true freedom for his people. Dr. King‘s efforts influenced Civil Rights Movements all around the world. We all owe an eternal debt to Dr. King and all who suffered with him. Let us all remember Dr. King‘s efforts to achieve a better world for all.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” (1968)

Video from curtissjc/YouTube 

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