The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
written by GTF alumnus, Luis G. Collazo (Ph.D. 2013)
Pastor, Writer, and Professor
Following is an English translation of the original article. To read the original article in Spanish please visit this link.
In 1968 his book The Trumpet of Conscience, was published in Spanish. This writing includes five lectures given in 1967 through the Canadian Radio Society. Trying to reduce the legacy of this prophet of human dignity, to a few pages, would be an unforgivable pretention. It is important, particularly in our national and global context, to highlight some of the significant aspects of what I consider an essential part of his legacy.
This is how the option for freedom is a fundamental element of its ethical and social proposal. Was the “gospel” of freedom the open horizon of his deed for the full emancipation of the human being, particularly of the black race. At the beginning of his first radio conference, about the open space that Canada represented for black slaves, he declared, “The black slave, who was denied any education, who became dehumanized, imprisoned in cruelly organized plantations, knew that, in the distance, towards the North, there was a country – Canada – where, if he managed to survive the horrors of journey, I could find freedom.”
Freedom, as the foundation of human dignity, emerged as the legitimate and preferential social place in the thought and practice of this herald of liberation. In this sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. bequeathed us the ethical spirit of the right to resist “the world” when the oppressive configuration of it depredates integrity and human dignity. He offers us in his thought the possibility of considering freedom in all its complexity and its challenges. This is how he warned us, and his vision continues to be relevant when he says: “Currently, the problem is not knowing whether we will be free, but how we will gain freedom.”
It is very relevant to recognize that before the “ups and downs” of the struggle for freedom, it is imperative to read with acute assertiveness the “signs of the times.” That is why King, Jr. warns us of the fact, which is still extremely valid, by highlighting “in what way we will win our freedom.” This constitutes the great current challenge for our national and global historical conjuncture. It will require a praxis and a deep and humble reflection to be able to specify the paths of freedom.
In a self-reflective note, which with eloquent emotion, that still serves as an existential and historical warning he said: “The time of goodwill and the desire to help blacks – an time on the other hand, of short duration – is quickly over. As the immediate hopes were lost, the blacks were realizing with increasing certainty, that the final goal, freedom, was still far away; and our life became an agony that is not over yet.”
Aware of the dilemma of facing a cultural profile marked by the “social sin” of racism, economic inequality, the structural perpetuity of a “white warmongering” economy and a legal system plagued by iniquity, the black prophet recognized the long road to freedom. The message that King bequeathed warns us to avoid all ingenuity of aspiring to a “Nobel” and illusory solutions to the problem of colonialism, discrimination, and prejudice. The vices of power, class arrogance, imperial prepotency and the underlying slavery of social consciences are obvious pitfalls on this long road to freedom. For a long time, the dominant sectors have financially blackmailed large social sectors, thus imploding the revolutionary will. We must be aware that there are no magic or protagonist solutions in this libertarian and liberationist pilgrimage. It will require a prophetic patience and a wise liberating strategy.
But it was also the tactics of non-violence and peaceful resistance, another of its legacies to the sectors that still validate, as an act of resilience, the quest for a new and better world. In fact, that was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s biggest dream. His description of a historical period seems to be loaded with authentically prophetic spirit: “Despite its elements of constructionism, the years of 1955 through 1965 gave a false vision of our struggle. Nobody seemed to notice the great amount of anger and violence that blacks tried to avoid, nor the great amount of intolerance that white people tried to disguise.”
Even today such reality is perpetuated within our global and local society. Some repress, and others rationalize. Such a reality generates a level of visible and invisible violence in hostility, indifference, necrophilia, crime, widespread discrimination, religious obsession, and ethical exhaustion among many other perversions of the nobility of the human soul. Islamophobia, xenophobia among others undermine human solidarity.
One of the options for which King opted was non-violence and peaceful resistance. Both options should be considered as transformative action strategies to achieve their political efficacy and historical validity. In that perspective, King affirmed: “Currently, the protest based on non-violence must mature until it reaches a higher level that balances the angry impatience of the blacks and the powerful resistance of the whites. This highest level is represented by civil disobedience in a massive degree. ”
Each historical moment must identify its most pertinent strategies. What King, Jr. bequeathed us was the idea that praxis constitutes the concrete element in the discourse oriented towards historical transformation. The construction of a new human reality represents the ethical foundation of configuring a radical action of change. The abstract and theoretical elaboration of ideas or readings of reality is not enough to achieve the consolidation of what in the evangelical perspective is called “the Kingdom of God and its justice.”
Creativity can offer us new ways of conceiving nonviolence and peaceful resistance. It is urgent to avoid, as King also illustrated us, the religion-political; piety – materiality dualisms. It will be necessary a political spirituality that gives virtue to a holistic vision of reality and incorporates new contents to the praxis of peaceful resistance, civil disobedience, and non-violence.
At the end of his book is included a sermon offered by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta during the 1967 Christmas I cite from such the following text that I consider profoundly prophetic and encouraging: “All of us are trapped in an inevitable network of reciprocity, tied to the threads of destiny. What directly affects an individual, indirectly affects others. The structure of reality, which is formed by a process of interrelations, forces us to live together.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered on April 4, 1968 in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. With his death, the hope was born that one day we all will be one again in a great universal solidarity. That will be the day we achieve a global and political ecumenism on the long road to FREEDOM.