Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! This past summer I was able to visit Atlanta, GA and take in all of the MLK sites. Last week I posted about his childhood home and Ebenezer Baptist Church where he pastored and his funeral was held. To read about his early years please visit Melody and Martin Luther King, Jr. Part 1.
Nothing I show or write is graphic, but the subject is very harsh. I have a lot of young subscribers and do not want to frighten them, but unfortunately this is our country’s history. Reader discretion is advised.
I started my day at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Site. It is an amazing museum and is free to all visitors. The displays and information are set up very well. While visiting all four attractions in the “Sweet Auburn” area, everyone I encountered was very friendly and said hello to me. I was able to strike up many conversations with other tourists while there, making this one of the most pleasant places I’ve had a privilege to visit.
Inside the center, the displays start with photographs of segregation and horrors of what life was like as a black person living in the south.
As someone who wasn’t alive before the 1980’s, I’ve never had a grasp on segregation. I’ve never felt it. All of the displays were very disturbing to me and brought tears to my eyes more than once. Because of my younger viewers, I will not post some of my pictures, but I do have to tell of one that made me cry right in the middle of the museum.
In the photo a black man was hanging dead from a tree. Gathered around watching, was a group of white men, women and children. I don’t know why this man had been killed, maybe it was a punishment for a crime or maybe it was because of his skin color. I don’t care either way. In the photograph was a little white girl looking at his body smiling. Smiling. In that moment I began to cry. How could anyone, especially a child be able to look upon death and smile. Hate. Pure and simple, hate. Somewhere in her very short life someone taught her that this was acceptable and normal. It chilled me and still makes me angry when I think of it.
“As far back as I could remember, I had resented segregation, and had asked my parents urgent and pointed questions about it … My mother took me on her lap and … tried to explain the divided system of the South … as a social condition rather than a natural order.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I continued on in the museum and I saw photos of the King family life. As I mentioned in Part 1, Martin married an intelligent singer named Coretta Scott in 1953. After they were married they moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Martin had accepted a job to become the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The couple had four children together Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice.
Not long after the King’s moved to Alabama, they found themselves in the middle of the Montgomery bus boycott. An African-American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person and was arrested for it in 1956. Martin became the leader of a protest movement to boycott public transit until segregation was lifted. Boycotters organized themselves and created a system of carpools. Black taxi drivers lowered their fees and some people went to horse-drawn buggies. Alabama churches collected money to buy shoes for the Montgomery citizens, as most walked everywhere. The boycott worked well. The loss of money caused serious economic distress in Alabama. Martin wrote “a miracle had taken place.”
Martin was arrested along with others for organizing the protest. He spent two weeks in jail. Unfortunately, for those wishing to silence him it backfired bringing national attention to what was going on in the south.
“I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on the bus lines was unconstitutional and the protesters received victory. The following weeks in Montgomery became a nightmare as churches were bombed, buses were shot at and some African-Americans were attacked and even murdered.
Martin was convinced that peaceful protest was the only way to achieve change in America. He came to this conclusion through his biblical studies and by studying the effects of peaceful protests in India. Mohandas Gandhi led a peaceful protest in 1930 against the British rule in India. Before any march or protest, Martin would make sure any weapons brought were confiscated.
If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword”. We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you”. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the museum is a large display of protesters walking the streets. Melody wanted to join in very much!
Over the next decade, Martin advanced the civil rights movement one march at a time. In 1963, he lead the March on Washington to pressure the administration of President John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. It was here that Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 peaceful protesters.
On April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin was shot at 6:01 pm at the Lorraine Motel. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead at 7:05 pm.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church. His casket was placed in a wagon pulled by mules in a procession to Morehouse College.
Over the course of his life and even after his death, Dr. King was awarded numerous awards. He received at least fifty honorary degrees from universities and colleges. He was the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for his leadership in nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice. His “I Have a Dream” speech was awarded a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta are buried together outside Freedom Hall.
I have been deeply impressed upon by my visit and will never forget it or how it made me feel. The words thank-you are not big enough to express the thoughts and feelings I have toward the sacrifice the King family endured to right the wrongs that were created in our society. But I must say… Thank you Dr. King.