Today we celebrate the incredible life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of us think of him as a warrior for social justice. And he was. But roots in his character and associations suggest that at the heart of all he was, he was first and foremost - a peacemaker.
In 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end racial discrimination and segregation through the avenues of civil disobedience and other non-violent means. He was also awarded the Catholic Pacem in Terris Award (Peace on Earth). It is awarded "to honor a person for their achievements in peace and justice, not only in their country but in the world."
Four years after his work for social justice began in the streets of Montgomery, forcing social issues to the forefront and into the American and international psyche, he began to focus his energies on stopping the Vietnam War and ending poverty. He started a process of shifting, resifting, toppling norms and ideologies long held by establishments at odds with anything resembling human dignity and justice. These monumental shifts in the soul of our nation and the world are largely attributed to his courage and his voice.
Oh, but there was more to the man.
I was reminded today that he was inspired by the writings and teachings of another such activist.
When Dr. King visited India in 1959, he came away with a profound respect and understanding of the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
He later reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation."
He knew how to connect spiritual laws with scientific laws, science with morality, spoken words with unspoken fire, and generations of spiritual evolution into threads of commonalities within all cultures and religions while steadfastly holding to his own. Intrinsic ideas and truths became actions and deeds.
What I admire and appreciate about Martin Luther King, more than the amazing dream speech, more than his courage, more than his learned theological spirit, and even more than his political and social causes of injustice and equality, was his ability to intellectually intertwine all of those attributes and aspirations into powerful common sense purpose. The sum of all those parts made his greatness.
Sometimes we focus on a few shining moments of publicity and grandeur so long that we forget what made him great in the first place. He knew who he was. He stayed in his lane. That was his true genius.
Dr. King surrounded himself with learned men, intimate and scholarly mentors, often controversial, books and a love of words, prayers, and a burning desire to pour out what was inside of him in letters and essays to the rest of us, even from a Birmingham Jail.
Because he honored the wisdom of others, to his credit, we not only find a profoundly cerebral giant among men, we find humility.
We mostly remember a speech, a bullet, a march, a statue, a remarkable iconic individual - and all those things are to be remembered, mourned, and revered about the man - but what lay underneath is more important to me, because without that brilliant, questioning, analytical ability to connect the dots and eloquently espouse them into one cohesive truth the whole world could understand, there wouldn't have been a march, a speech, or a movement.
The rest of his legacy would have been impossible to achieve and he would have become not a shining human light upon a hill of ugly darkness or a seeker of truth in Gandhi's shadow, but just another speech maker, noise maker, rabble-rouser and activist marching down roads at the whim of every wind with no direction and no clear path. No leader can lead walking blindly around corners of pivotal change and unrest, and take others with him, unless he already knows what lies ahead.
So today I celebrate Martin the man. The thinker. The preacher. The spirit. The leader.
And a man who understood who he was, where he'd been and where he was going.
This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. King:
How I long for a time when the leaders we see before us in the world today, humble themselves before voices of wisdom gone by.
May we find ourselves worthy of his fine example.
Edited and reprinted from a previous version from Mimi Writes